Legislative bodies excel at allocating tax dollars but not necessarily at determining the particulars of how those funds are best spent. They bridge that gap by turning the funds over to executive branch agencies, which often then pass them along to other entities—usually subordinate agencies that are closer to where the funds will be put to use and more likely to ensure they are used effectively. Finally, would-be recipients of these funds, public and private, are often made to compete for them. Welcome to the world of government grants.
“The funding state government gets is provided by the Utah Legislature, and when it’s a grant, there is legal language associated with it describing how it must be used to achieve a specific public benefit or solve a problem,” says Jim Grover, managing director of incentives and grants for the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. “You see a really high ratio of applicants to awardees with economic assistance grants, at around 300 applicants competing for only 20 or 30 awards. You get a much lower ratio when it comes to our strategic air and water grants, where maybe three or four applicants are after the same award.”