In the past two years, legislators have suggested seven amendments to the state’s constitution, ranging in hunting and fishing rights to the legislative start date.
One of the amendments — Amendment G — could change the use of income tax revenue. As it stands, the Utah constitution limits income tax revenue spending only to public education and higher education spending.
Andrea Himoff is the executive director of Action Utah — a non-partisan organization that works to help people cast informed votes. Speaking in a Facebook web series last week, Himoff says in the eyes of lawmakers the amendment is about balancing the state budget.
“The problem is that sales tax revenue has been declining steadily over the years and threatens to no longer cover the other items in the state budget,” Himoff said. “Legislators perceived that there's more income tax revenue than is needed for education, and not enough sales tax revenue to cover other costs, like transportation, health care and social services.”
Last year, the Utah legislature tried to accommodate for this disparity by passing a tax reform bill, which lowered state income tax, but increased the sales tax with groceries seeing the brunt of the increase.
“The Utah legislature came up with an alternative solution to address the growing budget imbalance question while creating protections for education funding,” she said.
But after public outcry, the bill was repealed.
Now voters will have a say in how their income tax revenue is spent. Amendment G would expand the use of revenue from just education to education and social services, specifically services for people with disabilities.
But Himoff said Amendment G doesn’t offer many details on exactly how much money will be used to support disabled people.
“Though it is estimated that roughly 600 million dollars per year would be used for programs pertaining to children and people with disabilities,” she said.
That means $600 million dollars could be taken from the education budget every year. Himoff said education in Utah is already underfunded, so there’s disagreement over the benefits of the amendment.
“There's concern about siphoning off revenues that are currently earmarked solely for education and putting them towards social services, another area that has been traditionally underfunded in Utah,” according to Himoff.
Other amendments on the November ballot include Amendment A, which makes language in the constitution gender neutral. Another amendment would remove the ability to use slavery as a punishment for a crime from the state’s constitution.