Local legislators: no easy choices this year

Utah lawmakers are returning to the Utah capitol today with budget cuts on everyone’s mind. State lawmakers begin their annual 45-day session in the throes of an economic recession.State Senator Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who is the co-chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, says it’s going to be an extremely tough session. Hillyard says some people who believe a small tax increase would solve the estimated $900 million shortfall are being naive. He says it is not a good time to raise taxes with many people out of jobs and a lot of incomes are down.State Representative Fred Hunsaker, R-District 4, says when it comes to dealing with the shortfall there are no easy choices. Hunsaker just retired from his job as Vice President for Business and Finance at Utah State University where he saw budget cuts totaling $27 million enacted while public education has also enacted massive budget cuts.Raising taxes is one alternative and it has been suggested that the tax on food be increased. Hunsaker says this would affect people who make barely more than required to be eligible for food stamps.”They don’t quite qualify but they’re still in a difficult situation,” says Hunsaker. “They’re the ones I worry the most about because a lot of people are struggling and they will be people this will hit particularly hard.”Hunsaker says it would be very hard for him to support an increase on the food tax but he might do so as a last resort.Sen. Hillyard, meanwhile, is hoping more agencies voluntarily look for ways to cut back.”The things I really like,” Hillyard says, “are a few agencies have come forward and said, ‘you know, we really have been able to streamline, refocus how we deliver services. So we think we’ll be able to do about the same with a lot less money.’ “That’s been very healthy and that’s been encouraging to me. But there’s still a lot of people saying, ‘We’re who we are and you better give us all the money we’ve always had.’ It’s just not there.”Monday is largely a ceremonial day where House Speaker Dave Clark and Senate President Michael Waddoups will give opening-day speeches. Governor Gary Herbert will give his State of the State address Tuesday.

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