SALT LAKE CITY — Ranking Utah lawmakers are predicting that one or more special sessions of the Legislature will be necessary to resolve budget issues created by the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Per the State Constitution, members of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives passed a $20 billion balanced budget for 2020-21 based on the best revenue estimates by fiscal analysts when the regularly-scheduled annual session of the Legislature ended in mid-March.
Two weeks later, according to Sen. Lyle Hillyard, not only is the validity of that 2020-21 budget in doubt, but the state also faces a monetary deficit between now and July 1.
The short-term budget issue, according to Senate Budget Chairman Jerry Stevenson, is the result of the federal decision to move the deadline for filing income tax returns from April 15 to July 15 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers are now discussing meeting in a special session prior to the end of the fiscal year to transfer an estimated $840 million from the 2020-21 budget to cover the anticipated shortfall in current funds.
Hillyard considers that transfer to be a fairly routine procedure, with funds being temporarily borrowed from planned construction, rainy day accounts and other sources in next year’s budget. Lawmakers should be able to replace those funds as soon as the deferred tax payments arrive in mid-July.
The biggest challenge in that initial special session will likely be conducting it online if social distancing guidelines are still in effect, Hillyard added.
But Stevenson says that coping with the economic impact of the Coronavirus business slowdown on the revenue estimates used to craft the 2020-21 budget will be a more complex issue, admitting that state officials don’t know how much will have to be slashed from the upcoming budget.
Hillyard explained that the amount of the 2020-21 fiscal shortfall will depend on how it takes for the Utah business community to return to normal.
Stevenson added that multiple special sessions of the Legislature might be necessary to achieve the required cuts, but the budget chairman doesn’t believe that layoffs of state employees will be necessary.