For the second year in a row, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is asking lawmakers to consider chipping away at the increasing amount of earmarked dollars in the state, focusing on those billed for transportation projects.
The state’s General Fund is expected to grow by about $180 million this year, but $77 million of that money will be automatically earmarked and added to a growing pool of state money, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
"It may be a very good place to put it, but there ought to be a discussion about it," Herbert said recently, explaining that the account takes away flexibility regarding how the funds are spent. "We're coming to a point where there's a crossroads decision, because if we don't reduce some of the earmarks, we will have a difficult time funding education, particularly higher education."
Herbert has asked the Legislature to take $10 million out of the earmarked funds this year for use in early interventions for at-risk kids, such as programs for full-day kindergarten.
Lawmakers rebuffed Herbert's request to start reducing earmarks last year.
About 85% of the earmarked funds in question go to transportation projects, and some officials have taken the position that putting money into roads rather than new state programs will allow the state to slow or pause construction if the economy goes south.
Rep. Dan McCay (R – Riverton) is having legislation drafted that would do away with all non-transportation earmarks, a move that would aid Herbert in making a political victory. The move would return about $90 million to the general fund but remove about $36 million saved for water projects, $8 million earmarked for anti-smoking campaigns and cancer research, $5 million dedicated to alcohol law enforcement and $18 million meant to help bring tourists to Utah. McCay has stated that earmarking money eliminates regular review of whether it is being spent efficiently.