The Utah State legislature has begun its 2023 general session, and the bills of this session could have an impact on tax-payers, student and teacher funding, the Great Salt Lake, and perhaps a change to the Utah State flag.
Deseret News reported that they expect to see changes in transportation, housing, and education spending. State legislators are also trying to push major investments in natural resources, such as water – with specific attention given to the Great Salt Lake.
Lawmakers will tackle hot topics such as transgender rights in regard to sports and whether minors should be allowed to go through transitional procedures. Many are hoping to see a clearer definition of the state’s abortion policy, as well.
Prior to the session, Governor Spencer Cox outlined a plan to significantly increase Utah’s education spending. His plan will raise Utah’s per-pupil and per-teacher spending. Currently, he proposes a 5% raise – $65 million – to the budget.
The Governor has said he is confident that there will be minimal roadblocks with his plan, he told Salt Lake Tribune reporters following the December announcement, “All of the conversations I’ve had have been incredibly positive, that (lawmakers) are willing to support (increasing school funding) at that level, and maybe even higher.”
In addition to an increase in education spending, state legislators are also considering cutting taxes. As of November 2022, state lawmakers are looking at a projected budget surplus of at least $3 billion for the upcoming year. Cox has said he is open to $1 billion in tax relief. One of his recommendations included possibly reducing the state’s income tax from 4.85% to 4.75%.
The governor has also proposed giving money back to tax-payers through a few different methods. One is to provide households with one-time rebates based on income. Another possible idea would make $250 of the Taxpayer Credit Refundable – allowing qualifying households to potentially receive more money back. The third idea is a new tax credit that could allow an individual or family to claim an additional exemption in a child’s birth year – with extenuating rules for unborn children.
The last tax-cutting proposition addresses the recent housing market increases by outlining the possibility of a rebate on property tax disbursements – which, according to the Governor, could save taxpayers up to $145 million.
Preserving the Great Salt Lake is a hot topic among state legislators. “We can’t just assume that the Great Salt Lake is going to be OK,” State House Speaker Brad Wilson told Deseret News, “there has to be a very deliberate plan” to make a change. Wilson plans to run “Utah Water Ways,” a bill that will provide public education on water conservation.
Governor Cox is proposing adding over $560 million to conservation programs – with $132.9 million concentrated on the Great Salt Lake alone.
State Senator Stuart Adams said to expect significant investments in water infrastructure as the Executive Appropriations Committee has set aside $1.2 billion for infrastructure projects. Adams told Deseret News that this year “transportation infrastructure will probably be second to water infrastructure.”
Legislation committee meetings are open to public attendance and will be held from Tuesday, Jan. 17 until Mar. 3. For more information on the session and to view status on bills, visit the Utah State Legislatures website.