- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 20 (UPI) — Utah's 45-day legislative session convened Monday with lawmakers hoping to hold the line on taxes while anxiously awaiting the state's latest revenue figures to be compiled.

Republican leaders have pledged that taxes will not be increased in the Beehive State even though the Legislature had to make several program cuts during special sessions last year in order to cover a $420 million revenue shortfall.

"There will be no general tax increases this session," Republican House Speaker Marty Stephens told the Deseret News. "There will not even be a gasoline tax hike."

Monday's opening session was devoted largely to ceremonial matters, although the chairs of the Legislature's appropriations subcommittees were scheduled to huddle late in the afternoon. A full slate of standing committee meetings was scheduled to begin first thing Tuesday morning followed by Gov. Mike Leavitt's State of the State speech that evening.

As with many western states, Utah is caught between declining revenues die to the overall economy's lackadasical performance, and a growing population that is steadily increasing the pressure on education and social services. The projections of revenues for the current fiscal year and the 2003-2004 fiscal year will not be completed until the middle of February.

Utah has already shelved raises for state employees and teachers, and virtually frozen per-student education spending levels.

In addition, some lawmakers have proposed another round of early releases from the state's prison system. Officials from the state parole board, however, have said they had their doubts about the idea since they might not have another 400 inmates who could be released without a significant risk to public safety.

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