Utah lawmakers OK $101 million in federal money

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers agreed Wednesday to accept $101 million in federal education stimulus money, but not without griping about it first.Lawmakers begrudgingly accepted the money during a special legislative session, saying in a resolution that Congress had usurped states’ authority.”That usurpation has generally taken the form of the federal government circumventing state legislatures and the state legislatures’ appropriation process by granting monies directly to the governor, to the state executive branch, or to local government entities,” the resolutions accepting the money says.Republican Gov. Gary Herbert applied for the federal funds this fall.Ultimately, the Republican-controlled House approved accepting the money 57-14 and the GOP-controlled Senate did so 22-6. Attempts by Democrats to accept the money in a more softly worded resolution failed.Federal legislation is providing $10 billion to school districts nationwide to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won’t be let go.Some Utah school districts want the money to reduce the number of furlough days teachers are being forced to take.Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, noted the academic school year had already been cut in Davis County.But some Republican lawmakers are annoyed that Congress has already decided how states must spend the money. They say decisions about how, and if, money will be spent falls to them under the Utah constitution.They’re also annoyed that they’re being forced to accept federal money at a time the nation is debt.Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, likened the state’s acceptance of federal money to being addicted to crack cocaine.Democrats and some moderate Republicans noted that the state could use the money – it already faces a $50 million education shortfall that the money will help cover. Utah also already spends less per student than any other state and has the nation’s largest class sizes.Lawmakers spent more than three hours in public and private Wednesday debating whether to accept the money.Whether they voted to accept the money or not was a moot point – the federal legislation gives Congress the ability to give the money directly to school districts if state governments said they didn’t want it.

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