DALLAS - Utah lawmakers are bracing for a difficult regular legislative session in January after covering a $354 million budget shortfall in a special session last week.

To rebalance the budget, lawmakers cut spending but did not approve the issuance of $150 million of transportation bonds in the process.

The remaining bond capacity gives the 2009 Legislature some welcome flexibility in creating the next budget.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the outlook for the upcoming session is cloudy, with no clear sign that more cuts are on the horizon.

Utah, like neighboring Arizona, is caught in the undertow of the national economy, with revenues falling $272 million below projections over the last six months.

House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, an executive at Zions Bank, told reporters that he is not sure "the end of the tunnel is in sight."

The cuts will cost thousands of Utah residents their health benefits, and dozens of state jobs will be eliminated. Child safety and substance abuse prevention programs will also be cut.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said opposition to tax hikes amid economic weakness was forcing cuts instead of raising new revenue.

Left untouched were a $100 million emergency fund for education and the state's $434 million rainy-day fund.

The Utah Department of Transportation has already begun cutting projects in anticipation of further belt-tightening. A Utah Lake crossing study and a road for energy production from Green River through the Book Cliffs and the Uinta Basin were placed on hold last week.

Also frozen were $1.5 million in sidewalk funds and $250,000 meant to attract a commercial air carrier to the Logan Airport, providing savings of $5.5 million in the coming fiscal year.

About $35 million in spending cuts were ordered by the Legislature.

UDOT executive director John Njord was told to trim the $90 million-a-year Critical Highway Needs Fund, the $55 million-a-year Transportation Investment Fund, the $35 million-a-year highway construction program, or the $165.5 million-a-year Centennial Highway Fund.

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