Utah

State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide

Utah was a standout in three of the five budgetary practice categories evaluated, receiving top A averages in budget maneuvers, legacy costs, and reserve funds for 2017 through 2019. 

Having the eighth-best-funded state pension in 2018 contributed to the state’s legacy costs grade. Utah’s pension system was 85 percent funded that year, 15 percentage points above the total for all states. That healthy position stands in sharp contrast to 2008, when the system lost more than a fifth of its assets in the stock market crash; its funding dropped from almost 100 percent to 70 percent the next year. The decline prompted reforms that helped get the system back on a growth path. In the latest evaluation period, Utah made its full actuarially determined contributions for the pension and for other postemployment benefits (OPEB), mainly health care.

Utah earned an A in budget maneuvers by rejecting the use of one-time revenue measures to achieve budgetary balance. Its top mark in reserve funds stems from its regular analysis of revenue volatility, which is used to set balances in the General Fund Budget Reserve and Education Fund Budget Reserve accounts. The state’s B average in forecasting was buoyed by the legislature’s decision in 2018 to mandate long-term budget stress-testing, including considering revenues and expenditures from major funds and tax types under various economic conditions. Utah’s C average for transparency reflected a lack of a comprehensive budgetary report on tax expenditures. Though the State Tax Commission provides an annual table with estimates of statutory sales tax exemptions, it does not address credits, abatements, or other types of tax breaks. 

Download Printable State Report Card

To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.

The report cards presented here are taken from the 2020 Volcker Alliance report, Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: The Balancing Act, which proposes a set of best practices for policymakers. For those wishing to gain greater insight into state fiscal issues, the accompanying budget resource guide is derived from the Alliance publication State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses (2016). 

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