As you likely know by now, a “Nonbinding Opinion Question #1” is on the ballot this fall which reads: “To provide additional funding for public education and local roads, should the state increase the state motor and special fuel tax rates by an equivalent of 10 cents per gallon?”
Besides the 33 percent Utah state fuel tax increase being proposed, there are some other major problems with the proposal.
While you can use state sales tax money in any of at least three state budget areas — transportation, public education and higher education, education money from income tax is limited by the Utah State Constitution to only public education and higher education.
Fuel tax money is limited by the Utah State Constitution to transportation and transportation items only, not public education. To advertise that you are going to move taxpayer money around so you are using transportation only money somewhere else violates at minimum the intent of the Utah Constitution.
The other issue with this proposed shell game is that transportation-related sales tax should also go to transportation - based on the same section in the Utah State Constitution. It is the sales tax going to transportation that this “shell game” plans to use to make this whole scam “legal.” With more Utah state fuel tax, the promoters of this tax increase think the Legislature will reduce the amount of sales tax being invested in transportation and move that to higher education and then move more higher education money to public education.
By using fuel tax to increase the education fund, at some point you are either directly violating the Utah Constitution or at minimum violating the intent.
Is the idea of asking the voters to agree to this shell game scheme supposed to let the Utah Legislature and the governor off the hook for not following the State Constitution?
Utah State Constitution, Art XXIII Sec. 5 Income Tax only for Public Education and Higher Education: “5) All revenue from taxes on intangible property or from a tax on income shall be used to support the systems of public education and higher education as defined in Article X, Section 2. Fuel tax and Transportation related sales tax only for Transportation: “6) Proceeds from fees, taxes, and other charges related to the operation of motor vehicles on public highways and proceeds from an excise tax on liquid motor fuel used to propel those motor vehicles shall be used for: (a) statutory refunds and adjustments and costs of collection and administration; (b) the construction, maintenance, and repair of State and local roads, including payment for property taken for or damaged by rights-of-way and for associated administrative costs; (c) driver education; (d) enforcement of state motor vehicle and traffic laws; and (e) the payment of the principal of and interest on any obligation of the State or a city or county, issued for any of the purposes set forth in Subsection (6)(b) and to which any of the fees, taxes, or other charges described in this Subsection (6) have been pledged, including any paid to the State or a city or county, as provided by statute. “
There is already a major issue with the education fund when the Board of Regents can raise higher education tuition without approval from the Legislature, when they don’t get all the money they want. This increase in the fuel tax will not solve that issue.
Vote No on Question #1. We don’t need any more “shell games.”
Fred C. Cox, West Valley City, Utah is a former member of the Utah House of Representatives.