The co-chairs of the state legislature’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force have recommended removing the constitutional requirement to spend income tax revenue only on public education funding as one way to address the state’s tax revenue imbalance.
House Minority Leader Brian King, a Democrat who represents part of Summit County, says there are many other options to address tax reform beside giving up the constitutional earmark on income tax for education.
“If you want to take that away, you've got to come up with something that makes those who are in the education community and concerned about public education feel secure that they're going to have an alternative source,” King said.
Heber Republican Rep. Tim Quinn sponsored tax reform legislation during this year’s general legislative session, and he sits on the tax reform task force. Quinn says he’s mentioned one such policy to maintain educational funding during his conversations with stakeholders this year.
“I suggested, though, that we have some type of floor based on historical data of what we have spent, as a percentage of the entire state budget, what we've spent in the past," Quinn said. "Let's set that as some type of floor, so that we can never go below that, and in good years we increase it and in bad years we still don't go below that floor that we've set. I think there are some mechanisms we can put in place to make the education system feel safe and secure.”
At the same time, though, Quinn says the constitutional earmark doesn’t actually protect education funding like the public thinks.
“While yes, there's this mental security blanket with the constitutional earmark, as Legislature we could literally take the income tax rate to zero, if we wanted," Quinn said. "Now, that would be foolish, but we could. So, in reality, there is no real security blanket for the education system. If we had some statutorily mandated minimum, I think that would be a better way to do it.”
At his recent monthly press conference, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he would be in favor of removing the earmark if the state’s educational stakeholders are comfortable doing so. Quinn says he believes the state board of education and state superintendent would be supportive, but the Utah Education Association, the state’s teachers union, has yet to express buy-in.
To remove it would require approval by two-thirds of the state legislature; a signature from the governor; and majority support by Utah voters.