Utah’s fiscal health good amid pandemic but could take a turn

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Wildfires add to concerns as another $28 million in funding needed for battling blazes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislative leaders received a largely positive prognosis Tuesday for the state’s financial health amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but were warned a second wave of the deadly virus “could throw the economy into a tailspin.”

The Executive Appropriations Committee, made up of state House and Senate leaders from both parties, also heard they’ll need to come up with another $28 million for what’s likely to be Utah’s worst-ever wildfire season on top of the $12 million already budgeted.

After six special sessions since the 2020 Legislature ended in March, just as the novel coronavirus outbreak hit the United States, Utah lawmakers have managed to balance the state budget and see a rebound in employment and revenues.

“Utah is doing very well” on a national ranking of economic well-being, racking up the fourth highest increases in key employment indicators from May through July, Andrea Wilko, the legislative fiscal analyst office’s chief economist, told the committee.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia index showed Utah jumped 17.3% in the combination of wages, nonfarm payroll jobs, hours worked in manufacturing and unemployment. Utah’s 4.5% unemployment rate is currently the nation’s lowest, Wilko said.

“It’s still above where it was but we’re actually making progress,” she said, predicting the state won’t return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of the year despite seeing a decline in job losses from 7.3% in April to 1.8% in July, a loss of some 27,500 jobs compared to the same month in 2019.

New weekly claims for unemployment benefits have also dropped, to just over 4,500 from a peak in April of more than 33,000, Wilko said. There were a total of 127,532 Utahns seeking benefits in April, a number …read more

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