Remember last winter, when the Utah Legislature passed a tax reform that everyone hated? After public uproar and a wildly successful grassroots referendum petition, legislators quickly repealed the package when they came back to town in January.
Now they’ve placed their next tax reform attempt on the November ballot — Constitutional Amendment G, which will reduce the state’s commitment to education funding in order to fund other projects and programs. This is an even worse idea than the grocery tax debacle of last winter, and I urge you to vote NO on Amendment G.
For 89 years, since it was first approved by voters, Utah’s income tax has been dedicated solely to education. That puts pressure on legislators, because when the economy is strong and the income tax grows, they’re forced to use that growth to improve our schools.
This pressure is a good thing. We have the highest education needs in the country, with more kids per family than any other state, and yet we spend the smallest amount per student. When we see how large the class sizes are, how little our teachers are paid and how few the options are for extra help when our kids are struggling, most of us want to see more money spent on education.
We’ve told that to pollsters time and again over the years. But legislators don’t want to hear that message, and the school funding guarantee is getting in their way. When you boil their arguments down, they think schools don’t need as much money as the income tax is generating. They want you to trust them to spend your income tax dollars on other priorities.
Do you trust them? Do you believe your schools have more than enough money?
To try to sell this deal, legislators created a new, weaker funding “guarantee” to replace the one we have now. What does it do? This “guarantee” merely says the budget committee will estimate inflation and student population growth and include an adjustment in the base budget bill. While it would be nice to always get student enrollment growth and inflation covered in the budget, that only sets a floor that funds schools as they are now. This does nothing to expand our schools' capacity to tackle today’s challenges and to invest in new ways to improve educational outcomes.
Here’s the kicker: Because this “guarantee” is only about what goes into the proposed budget, rather than the budget that actually passes, it’s no guarantee at all. The final budget goes through many amendments as it works its way through the legislative process. And because the “guarantee” is only a statute, not in the Constitution, legislators can ignore or even permanently repeal it at any time — without a vote of the people.
Another way legislators tried to sell the deal was by initially giving schools a 9% increase in funding for this year. That’s a large increase, but was it worth giving up a constitutional guarantee for one year of good funding?
This summer, the Legislature walked back most of that funding because the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced revenues, and today’s funding situation is far different than when the Legislature put this on the ballot.
Here’s the bottom line: Do you believe that giving legislators more budget flexibility will result in more investment in our schools? Amendment G is on the ballot precisely because they want to spend less on schools in the future than the current Constitution would require. That’s not a deal I’m willing to make.
Please join me in voting no on Amendment G.