Legislative Update – Week 1

The 2015 Session of the Utah State Legislature got underway Monday, January 26, and will conclude Thursday, March 12.  It is anticipated there will be several bills with potential impact to the Utah System of Higher Education, all of which will be carefully tracked by the Commissioner’s Office and institutions.

2015-2016 Budget

According to the State’s consensus revenue estimates, the State has a larger surplus than last year. Revenue growth in the coming year is projected to result in $313 million in new one-time funds and $325 million in new ongoing funds.  However, in December the Legislative Fiscal Analyst noted current ongoing revenue projections are $116 million above trend.  In order “to manage long-term revenue fluctuations, avoid committing short-term gains to long-term obligations, and assure Utah has adequate and justifiable resources in reserve,” the Executive Appropriations Committee made a one-time reduction in ongoing funds as well as a set aside for specific anticipated obligations related to state retirement and tourism marketing. With those adjustments, the resulting legislative revenue estimates are as follows:

New Total Revenue Available (Education and General Fund combined, in millions):

$ 325$ 313
Above-trend adjustment$-116$+116
End of session set-asides$-30
Total new available$179 million$429 million

An updated revenue estimate will be available in mid-February.

The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee met twice this week, focusing on the existing base budget for higher education.  There are several new members of the committee, including newly-elected State Senator Ann Millner, former president of Weber State University.  Other new members include Senators Evan Vickers and Jim Dabakis, and Representatives Kim Coleman, Fred Cox, Jon Cox, and Carol Spackman Moss.

Commissioner Buhler gave introductory remarks providing the Utah context with national higher education trends, as well as updated the committee on the significant impact of the much needed Acute Equity funding that was provided by the Legislature in 2014. He also introduced the Performance Funding model adopted by the Board of Regents at its January 23, 2015, meeting which is one part of USHE’s 2015-16 budget priorities, that also seeks includes increases for merit-based compensation, mission-based funding, and Regents’ Scholarship growth.

Presidents Chuck Wight of Weber State University (WSU) and Deneece Huftalin of Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) gave overview presentations of their respective institutions.  Both provided outstanding context to the major issues in higher education.  Highlights include:

  • The average annual salary of 2013-14 graduates with a bachelor’s degree at WSU is $41,408.
  • The top degree programs at WSU over the last five years are Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Business Administration, Medical Laboratory Sciences, and Accounting/Taxation.
  • 2/3 of bachelor’s degrees awarded at WSU are in the top “high need” job occupations for the state of Utah.
  • 60% of SLCC students successfully transfer to another university or college to continue their education (over 50% to the University of Utah).
  • 56% of all students at SLCC are first-generation students.
  • SLCC is one of only approximately 40 colleges and universities in the U.S. with approval to pilot for the first time the use of federal financial aid in competency-based academic programs.

Audio recordings and materials, including presentations, for all Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meetings are online. To access materials for a specific meeting, click “View List” on the right column under “Meeting Materials”.

Capital Budget.  The Infrastructure Subcommittee will begin hearing requests for capital development funding on Thursday, February 5, 2014.  The agenda, when available, will be posted here.

Key Legislation of Interest to USHE

  • HB 123, Tuition and Fees Assistance for Utah National Guard Members* by Rep. Val Peterson, this bill expands the allowable tuition assistance for a Utah National Guard member to include fees. The bill was passed by unanimously by the House Education Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House.
  • HB 198, Strengthening College and Career Readiness by Rep. Patrice Arent, creates the Strengthening College and Career Readiness Program to improve students’ college and career readiness through enhancing the skill level of school counselors for college and career counseling. The bill directs the State Board of Education, in collaboration with the State Board of Regents to develop a certificate for school counselors that certifies a school counselor is highly skilled at providing college and career counseling. The bill is currently awaiting a committee hearing.
  • SB 64 (1st Substitute), Utah Educational Savings Plan Amendments, by Sen. Todd Weiler, Modifies tax credit provisions related to the Utah Educational Savings Plan to allow for a portion of an individual income tax refund to be contributed to a qualifying Utah Educational Savings Plan.  Current statute only allows for an individual’s entire income tax refund to be contributed. The bill also makes technical and conforming changes. The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Business and Labor Committee and awaits further consideration by the Senate.

* USHE has taken an official position in support | ** USHE has taken an official position in opposition.
For more information on legislation, committee agendas, or to view or listen to floor debates, see: http://le.utah.gov/.

Information on this page is current as of February 2, 2015.


Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director