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.
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 found here contain grades of the state's budgetary practices during the fiscal years of 2017 through 2019. Each state received marks in five critical categories, based on their adherence to best practices in several key budgeting indicators. The five categories covered methods used to achieve budgetary balance as well as how budgets and other financial information are disclosed to the public.
States received grades of A to D-minus (there are no “failed states”) for their procedures in estimating revenues and expenditures; their use of one-time actions to balance budgets; how they oversee and use rainy day funds and other fiscal reserves; the adequacy of their funding of public worker retirement and other postemployment benefits; and the quality of transparency of budget and related financial information. The grades are based on research conducted by public finance and budgeting professors and students at eight US schools of public administration or policy. The universities’ research efforts were augmented by Volcker Alliance staff, data consultants at Municipal Market Analytics, and special project consultants Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.
State Budget Sources
State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses is a resource published by the Volcker Alliance designed to help public officials, policy advocates, journalists, academics, and concerned citizens fully understand the critical fiscal decisions that governors and legislators must make. The guide includes the links below to budgets for this state as well as legislative analyses of budget bills and treasurers’ or comptrollers’ monthly state cash-flow statements; capital spending plans; reports on public-worker pension funding and returns; and reports by local and national fiscal research organizations, bond rating firms, and associations of state fiscal and finance officials.