A new public opinion poll shows a slim majority of Utahns oppose the use of state income tax revenues for purposes other than education, higher education and services for children and persons with disabilities, as provided for in the Utah Constitution.
According to the poll, conducted for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, 51% opposed such a change while 34% supported it. Fifteen percent answered “don’t know”.
The survey of 804 registered voters in Utah was conducted March 9-21 by Dan Jones & Associates. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said the poll reflects Utahns’ desire not to dilute education funding.
In recent years, the Utah Legislature has made a concerted effort to increase funding for education, begin addressing important initiatives, and comply with HB357, a 2020 law requiring lawmakers to fund enrollment growth and education. inflation and to provide a safety net to protect education funding during economic downturns. and other unforeseen circumstances.
“It’s a great trajectory, but we’re still second to last in terms of funding per student. Now is not the time to continue to open this when we have not seen the results of the trajectory we are following. It’s just getting started,” Matthews said.
Amid the just-concluded legislative session, GOP leaders met with several educational organizations and the Utah State Board of Education to discuss a proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution. Utah that would effectively eliminate the earmarking that ensures that income tax can only be used to fund public spending and higher education and services for children and people with disabilities.
In 2020, Utah voters agreed to amend the Utah Constitution to allow the use of state income tax for services for children and the disabled.
Two years later, Republican leaders said more flexibility was needed to facilitate the legislature’s budget process.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told the state’s school board, “We don’t really have a revenue problem in the state of Utah, but we do have a budget problem. . We don’t really have the flexibility as policy makers here on Capitol Hill, sometimes, to address statewide needs the way we feel we should.
Matthews said the overriding concern is whether schools in Utah “have the funding. We have seen a lot of progress, but we are not there yet. Until we are there in a very protected and progressive way. But I don’t think people will be interested in looking for ways to provide more flexibility.
In the end, lawmakers took no action to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, but on the last day of their 45-day legislative session, they approved SB211. , which renamed the Education Fund the Income Tax Fund. The bill did not have a committee hearing.
Most demographic groups said they oppose the use of income tax for other parts of the state budget, with the strongest opposition coming from people who identified as very active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thirty percent said they were strongly opposed and 27% said they were somewhat opposed.
Survey respondents with university and postgraduate degrees were also opposed, with a total of 56% of those with bachelor’s degrees strongly or somewhat opposed. This figure rose to 59% among those with higher education.
Opposition was highest among those who described themselves as somewhat liberal, with a total of 62% saying they were strongly or somewhat opposed to changing the use of income tax.
According to the poll results, those least opposed were people aged 18 to 24, people who described themselves as very conservative, people with a high school education, and those who said they were somewhat active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
France Barral, education commissioner for the Utah PTA, did not comment on the poll results, but she is confident the problem will resurface.
“I look forward to being part of the coalition to discuss this transparently,” said Barral, who is a certified public accountant by training.
“Show me the trends, so I really understand what we’re trying to do.”
Barral said she’s reluctant to speak for or against a proposed constitutional amendment until she can see the language, but a constitutional guarantee tied to certain criteria would be preferable to state law, which can be changed. by legislative vote.
Still, she gives lawmakers credit for signing on to HB357, which was complementary legislation to the resolution that put Constitutional Amendment G on the 2020 general ballot. Fifty-four percent of Utahns voted for the Amendment G, which expands the use of income tax for services for children and persons with disabilities. Voters also approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 that allows income tax revenues to be used for higher education.
The legislature has earmarked record spending on education for the upcoming school year. “We’ve never seen a budget increase like this in Utah, and I think we have to recognize that,” Barral said.
While the Utah PTA has long supported the education earmark, Barral said she expects lawmakers to work collaboratively when the issue resurfaces.
“To me, it’s more like you’re asking me to get rid of something that protects us pretty well in exchange for what?” she says.