Barron: Vote No on Amendment G

%22Gender+inclusion+procedures+must+be+adopted+by+each+local+school+board+in+the+state+of+Utah+to+help+foster+widespread+acceptance+in+our+communities+and+facilitate+greater+visibility+for+students+and+faculty+who+are+gender+non-conforming.%22+%28Courtesy+Flickr%29

“Gender inclusion procedures must be adopted by each local school board in the state of Utah to help foster widespread acceptance in our communities and facilitate greater visibility for students and faculty who are gender non-conforming.” (Courtesy Flickr)

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

 

None of the constitutional amendments on Utah’s 2020 ballot are as flashy as Prop 2 — the 2018 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana — but if ratified, these amendments will have a lasting impact on Utahns because amendments, unlike propositions, are difficult to change. The amendment with the most potential to directly impact Utahns is Amendment G, which expands the constitutional earmark on income and intangible property taxes to support children and people with disabilities instead of solely funding public education.

Amendment G’s supporters claim it will give the legislature more flexibility to serve vulnerable populations and increase the stability of educational funding. In reality, that stable educational funding is little more than a legislative pinky-promise and this amendment could result in permanently underfunded schools and social services. If Utahns really want to support Utah’s educational system and disabled population, they should vote no on Amendment G. 

Late last year, the legislature passed extensive income tax cuts which were promptly repealed due to voter backlash over decreased funding for Utah schools. Strangely, Utah lawmakers responded to constituents’ advocacy by proposing Amendment G during the 2020 legislative session instead of increasing education funding. Utah has consistently been dead last in per-student educational spending in the nation and is currently experiencing a teacher shortage, likely related to laughably low educator salaries.

The pandemic has only increased the strain on Utah’s educational system and educators. Helping disabled Utahns receive crucial services is a moral imperative but using our underfunded education system to fund social service programs would strip both systems of the funding they need. Instead, social services funding should be found in 78% of state revenue that is not earmarked.

To gain the support of the Utah Education Association and Utah’s PTA, proponents of Amendment G passed HB 357 which dedicates educational funding based on student enrollment in Utah’s public schools. This legislation would provide adequate educational funding even if revenue from income taxes significantly decreased like during the great recession. Since legislators can always invest additional monies into education, HB 357 will become law in January even if Amendment G is rejected in November.

The only new power Amendment G gives legislators is the option to spend less on our schools. If Amendment G is passed, a new amendment must be ratified on the ballot for it to be reversed. Sadly, there is no voter safeguard in place for HB 357- statutes can be changed by legislators at almost any time. Passing Amendment G has the potential to jeopardize the security of educational funding in our state permanently.

In July, Utah legislators cut state spending by more than $1 billion in anticipation of slumping tax revenues due to pandemic-induced economic turmoil. These cuts specifically affected education and social services for disabled Utahns. Forcing these continually underfunded areas to share a revenue stream through Amendment G will not magically fund either. To ensure the state has the budget to properly fund schools, social services and other important budget items, legislators need to increase taxes.

Raising taxes is hardly ever popular, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently recommended that states increase taxes on their wealthy residents — a population relatively unaffected by COVID-19 — to provide for the needs of their state. To increase the educational budget, legislators should raise tax rates on Utah’s upper-income earners and eliminate any income tax breaks that flow mainly to wealthy households. As real property taxes are only collected at a county-level in Utah, legislators should also introduce a state property tax on expensive homes to increase the state’s general budget. These tax increases, not Amendment G, will provide adequate funding for vital programs.

When I first read Amendment G, I planned to vote for it. I supported the constitutional earmark for education, but this amendment promised to expand the earmark, not remove it. As I researched Amendment G, however, it became clear that voting for this ballot measure would hurt Utah’s students and the disabled population. Schools and social services are important, they should not have to compete with each other for insufficient funding.

Trading a constitutionally guaranteed revenue source for the possibility of stable educational funding is irresponsible. Moreover, ratifying Amendment G will not shore up deficiencies in our state budget, to raise revenue lawmakers will need to raise taxes. Join me in voting no on Amendment G and instead demand bold legislative action — increased taxes on wealthy Utahns to pay for vital state services.

 

[email protected]

@readbarron