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Children’s Budget Report Finds Utah Is Spending More On Children Than Ever Before, But Education Funding Effort Is At A Record Low

Salt Lake City, December 9, 2021 - Voices for Utah Children, the state’s leading children’s policy advocacy organization, released its biennial Children's Budget Report.  The report, published every other year, measures how much (before and after inflation) the state invests every year in Utah’s children by dividing all state programs concerning children (which add up to about half of the overall state budget) into seven categories, without regard to their location within the structure of state government. The seven categories are as follows, in descending order by dollar value (adding state and federal funds together):

breakdown p1state pie

breakdown p2fed pie

Public investment in children should be understood as a central component of Utah’s economic development strategy.  Examining how much Utah invests in children can help the state evaluate whether it is maximizing the potential of our future workforce through our investment in human capital. 

This is especially important given the rapid demographic changes taking place in our state. The 2020 Census found that 30% of Utahns under 18 are members of a racial or ethnic minority (almost one-third of our future workforce), compared to just 24% in 2010. The investments we make today in reducing racial and ethnic gaps among Utah’s children will enable the state to thrive and prosper for generations to come

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Report highlights are as follows
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good ok bad

Good News: Utah is investing more in the next generation now than ever before, both overall and on a per-child basis

spending per kid

Not-so-good News: The non-K-12 Education portion of the Children’s Budget peaked on a per-child basis in FY 2016 and has fallen since then by 2%

non educ spend per kid

Bad News: Utah’s education funding effort continues to fall to record low levels

 educ fund hist

Additional Trends: Changes in Funding by Source 

overall graph

Trends in Education Funding: UT beat ID for 49th place, still far behind US overall 

us ut funding

UTIDGap

 MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE CHILDREN'S BUDGET REPORT:

Facebook Live Event presenting the 2021 Children's Budget Report, major findings and summaries of all the categories of funding that impact children in Utah.  https://fb.watch/9O05ECPAHi/

 KSL: https://www.ksl.com/article/50308739/utah-children-drowning-in-unmet-needs-according-to-new-budget-report?utm_source=Salt+Lake+Tribune&utm_campaign=93649b5bb5-rundown_12_10_2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dc2415ff28-93649b5bb5-45560674

KRCL: https://krcl.org/blog/radioactive-110821/ 

Published in News & Blog

BROAD COALITION CALLS FOR  INVESTMENT IN UTAH’S FUTURE,  NOT TAX CUTS, DOCUMENTS $5.2 BILLION IN URGENT UNMET NEEDS

Salt Lake City – On Monday, November 8, 2021 on the steps of the Utah Capitol, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates for the poor, for disabled Utahns, for education, health care, clean air, and a variety of other popular Utah priorities held a press conference calling on the Utah Legislature to avoid cutting taxes until it has developed a comprehensive plan to address Utahns’ top concerns by investing in Utah’s future.

Following nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah is fortunate to have achieved a more rapid economic recovery than nearly every other state. Utah has also received billions in federal assistance that have padded state revenues – but only temporarily. It is expected that the Governor and Legislature will have at least $2.5 billion in new revenues to appropriate in the 2022 General Session of the Utah Legislature. 

This has led some to say that Utah is “swimming in money” and should cut the state income tax rate from 4.95 to 4.5%, a tax break of $600 million (that mostly benefits upper income families rather than Utahns in need). This tax break would be over and above the roughly $3.5 billion that the Legislature has already cut from annual revenues in recent decades (seehttps://le.utah.gov/interim/2021/pdf/00003683.pdf slide #3).

In response, today the Invest in Utah’s Future coalition presented a list of urgent unmet needs amounting to $5.2 billion, more than double the amount of the expected new revenues.

The advocates also pointed out that, according to recent reports from the Utah State Tax Commission and the Utah Foundation, taxes in Utah are the lowest that they have been in decades, following repeated rounds of tax cutting. “We understand that tax cuts are popular, but we’ve reached the point where we must ask ourselves: Are we, as the current generation of Utahns, meeting our responsibility, as earlier generations did, to set aside sufficient resources every year to invest in our children, in our future, in the foundations of the next generation’s prosperity and quality of life?” said Matthew Weinstein of Voices for Utah Children.

Speakers also referenced the recent public opinion survey by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute that found that only 27% of Utahns support tax cutting over investing in Utah’s future, consistent with other polls done in recent years by the same organizations as well as by Envision Utah and the Utah Foundation.

Here is the list of urgent unmet needs that Utah has not been able to address due to the state’s chronic revenue shortages, adding up to a total of $5.2 billion:

 Budget Area  Amount  Details  Contacts 
 K-12: Reduce class sizes from 29 to 15  

$1.1 billion ($612m K-6 only)

 

Reduce class sizes/improve student/teacher ratio below the current Utah average of 29 (vs national average of 24) to optimum class size of 15. (Source: UEA)

 

Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain

   
 K-12: Paraeducators   $312 million  

Expand paraeducators to all Utah elementary classrooms. (Source: UEA)

 

K-12: Increase school counselors

 

$130 million

 

Increase school counselors per student to the national standard optimum of 1:250. Utah’s current ratio is 1:648, compared to the national average of 1:455.   (Source: UEA)

 K-12: school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers  $285 million  

Increase student access to school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers.  (Source: UEA) 

Current and optimal ratios are: 

School psychologists: Now 1:1950/Optimal 1:500

Social workers: Now 1:3000/Optimal 1:250

Special ed teachers: Now 1:35/Optimal 1:25
 K-12 Education: reduce teacher attrition and shortages  $500-600 million  Envision Utah estimates that we need to invest an additional $500-600 million each year just to reduce teacher turnover, where we rank among the worst in the nation. Our leaders’ unwillingness to solve our education underinvestment problem is why the majority-minority gaps in Utah’s high school graduation rates are worse than nationally and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).   
 K-12 School Nurses  $84.4 million  

The Utah Department of Health annual report “Nursing Services in Utah Public Schools 2020-21” found that it would cost $84.4m to hire an additional 844 nurses so as to have one nurse in every public school building. There are currently only 224 nurse FTEs in Utah’s public schools, a ratio of 1 nurse for every 2,617 students. One nurse in every building would improve that ratio to 1:623, which would still be worse than the national average. 

Sources: www.utahschoolnurses.org/, www.nasn.org, www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2021/10/01/diane-nicoll-utah-schools/  
 

Dr. Jennifer Brinton, MD, President, American Academy of Pediatrics – Utah  and Dr. William Cosgrove, Past-President -

 

K-12: 

Homeless Students

 $105.8 million  

HUD vouchers do not cover students and their families who are homeless under McKinney Vento Dept. of Education definition. For the 2019-2020 school year, Utah had a little over 13,500 K-12 homeless students. Some of them are duplicates as students move from one district to another. Also the same household has multiple children.  If we assume we have: 

  • 9,000 households with homeless students 
  • fair market rent at $1,400  
  • families paying $420 for their rent (30% AMI)
  • voucher will pay $980 monthly
  • total annual allocation is $105,840,000

Source: Utah Housing Coalition

 

Utah Housing Coalition Advocacy & Outreach Coordinator Francisca Blanc –  

 Full Day Kindergarten  

$52.5 million

 Voices for Utah Children estimates that it will cost $52.5 million to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.  Voices for Utah Children Sr. Policy Analyst Anna Thomas  and Pastor Brigette Weier, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church  
 Pre-K and Child Care  

$1 billion

 Well over $1 billion is one estimate for a much needed comprehensive system of early childhood care and education (pre-k) in Utah. 
 Afterschool Programs  

$3.6 million

 Utah’s 303 afterschool programs serve 43,000 kids but still leave 99,000 unsupervised every day after school. During this past year’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant competition in Utah, $1,062,816 was available and there was $4.6 million in requests, indicating a $3.6 million funding gap. (Source: Utah Afterschool Network) Utah Afterschool Network Director Ben Trentelman –  
 Health Insurance: Children  $5 million  It would cost Utah about $5 million to pay for SB158 to remove barriers to health insurance coverage so that all Utah kids can access health insurance, including 12-month continuous eligibility. Utah currently ranks last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and in the bottom 5 states for all children. Source: Voices for Utah Children  Voices for Utah Children Deputy Director Jessie Mandle  
 

Health Insurance:

New parents
 $5 million  Extending Post-Partum Medicaid Coverage for new parents up to one year (now just 60 days) Source: Voices for Utah Children
 Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Treatment  Uncertain  

Utah ranks last in the nation for mental health treatment access, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.

2020 report from the Legislative Auditor General found that Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative had failed to achieve its goal to reduce recidivism -- and actually saw recidivism rise -- in part because “both the availability and the quality of the drug addiction and mental health treatment are still inadequate.” (page 51)

Stakeholders identify the highest priority items as: housing and workforce capacity.  There is a need to expand student enrollment slots in universities for MSWs (Masters in Social Work), MFTs (Marriage & Family Therapists) and MHCs (Mental Health Counselors), and to provide scholarships at these institutions to attract students. 
 
 Disability Services  $30 million  

The DSPD disability services waiting list has doubled in the last decade from 1,953 people with disabilities in 2010 to 3,911 in 2020.

The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list, implying that it could cost $30 million to eliminate the waiting list entirely. 
 Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities – Jan Ferre
 

Rural Utah Economic Development

 Uncertain  Rural Utahns should not feel that they need to abandon their home communities and add to the growth pressures along the Wasatch Front in order to provide for their families. Rural economic development would benefit all Utahns and reduce disparities between the Wasatch Front and other areas of the state.   Community Action Partnership of Utah - Stefanie Jones and Clint Cottam –  
 Transportation Access  $300 million  

Increase access to employment and educational opportunities for more people, especially lower-income communities. Provide additional transit connections, including extended evening and weekend service. Establish more ‘active transportation‘ (bike and pedestrian) connections to increase equity of access. 

Source: Wasatch Front Regional Council
 
 Left Behind Workers and Families   $154 million  

Last year’s report “Left Out: Adding Up the Cost of Excluding

Undocumented Utahns from State and Federal COVID-19 Relief” showed how undocumented Utahns and their families (comprising 39,000 households with over 100,000 individuals) work hard and pay taxes but were excluded from $154 million of federal COVID and unemployment relief.
 Comunidades Unidas – Brianna Puga –  
 Sexual and Domestic Violence  $85 million  

Our economy incurs steep economic costs as a result of sexual and domestic violence. The Center for Disease Control estimates that over a lifetime the costs for a female survivor are $103,762 and for a male survivor $23,414. These include medical costs, loss of employment or interruption of paid work, criminal justice system costs, among others. 

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 2017 Needs Assessment identified insufficient funding for shelters, affordable housing, child care, legal representation, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services as major obstacles to protecting women from domestic violence. 

In the 2021 Utah Legislative Session, fourteen private non-profit domestic violence service providers submitted an appropriations request of $3.4 million in ongoing state funds. However, only $1.7 million was funded through federal TANF funds. No ongoing state funds were approved. Unfortunately, only two domestic violence service providers were able to accept and utilize the TANF funds. The remaining twelve domestic violence service providers were unable to accept those funds because TANF eligibility requirements conflict with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) confidentiality provisions. 

The actual cost to meet the needs of Utahns experiencing sexual and domestic violence is much higher than is reflected in the 2021 appropriations request and has been estimated to total $85 million. (Source: Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Restoring Ancestral Winds)

 

Gabriella Archuleta, Director of Public Policy, YWCA Utah    

and

Yolanda Francisco-Nez, Executive Director of Restoring Ancestral Winds  
 Housing  $415 million

Funding to build affordable housing state-wide for people earning less than 50% AMI. In Salt Lake County alone, the current need is $1 billion.  Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden.

For more information on the current and ongoing needs visit https://endutahhomelessness.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/HousingNow-Deck-12.pdf
  

Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake - Jean Hill -

 Homeless Services  $55 million   Case manager positions have been underfunded for the past several years and most do not make a living wage. The homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County also maintain a perpetual gap in state funding of at least $3 million per year. In 2019, homeless service providers across the state sought $41 million in funding for ongoing programs, including case management.  At that time, the state provided $12 million. The following year, the state provided $9 million.  Covering even the basic needs of providers would be a huge step forward in our efforts to reduce homelessness across the state.  
 Housing for Seniors   

$30 million/

year for 10 years
 

If we don’t fund preservation of affordable housing for seniors we will lose valuable units. A very general estimate would be $50,000 per unit for perhaps 5,000 units.  This equates to $250 million in rehab costs. 

What is more realistic is subsidizing 5,000 at say $500 per month or $30 million per year which would allow these projects to Borrow the money for rehab. Over 10 years the total is $300 million but the state would pay this over 10 years. The $250 million up front to rehab the units would likely keep them going for 10 years, then more rehab would be required. https://www.utahhousing.org/preserving-senior-affordable-housing-report.html 

https://nyuds.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=b8318f874017488ea9bdd51a296e59ef for senior housing report
 Utah Housing Coalition Director Tara Rollins  
 Air Quality  $100 million  In 2018 Gov. Gary Herbert proposed $100 million for clean air initiatives but the Legislature did not fully fund this goal. 

The Wasatch Front ranks as the 11th worst air quality in the nation for ozone and 7th worst for short-term particle pollution.

Investments should align with the principles in Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Road Map, and have fallen short in previous years. 
 
 Air Quality in Schools  

$35 million

 Funding for air purifiers in every classroom in Utah, which would reduce the risks both from COVID and from Utah’s air pollution and could be expected to result in improved school performance, even more than standard interventions such as reducing class size by 30%, or “high dose” tutoring. (Source: Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment)  UPHE Director Jonny Vasic -
 Air Quality: Promote Transit  $60 million  Funding for UTA to eliminate fares entirely on all UTA conveyances as has been done already in dozens of cities to varying degrees, including in the SLC Free Fare Zone. (Source: Steve Erickson fiscal estimate, https://freepublictransport.info/city/ )  Steve Erickson -  
 Hunger  Uncertain  It is clear that the state needs to do more in providing funding and other resources to help support local community food pantries. Earlier this year, Utahns Against Hunger conducted a community food pantry survey and found that in 2020, a quarter of pantry respondents had a funding gap, with 15% of respondents having a gap of $10,000 or more.  Utahns Against Hunger – Gina Cornia –  and Alex Cragun  
 Utah EITC  

$100 million

 Utah should become the 31st state to offer a 20% state match to this highly popular federal tax break. This refundable tax cut targeted to low- and moderate-income working families has been proven to reduce poverty by drawing lower-skilled persons into the workforce, moving them toward independence and self-sufficiency. Most of this tax cut goes to the lowest income fifth of Utahns, those earning under $28,000, and the rest goes to the second fifth of the income scale, those earning under $50,000.   Voices for Utah Children – Matthew Weinstein –  
 Eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food  $130 million  

The food tax is the most regressive tax. One-third of it is paid by the lowest-income half of Utah households, who earn less than a sixth of all Utah income. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, low-income families pay 36% of their income on food while higher-income families spend only 8%. This is why 37 states do not charge any sales tax on food.

 Rev Libby Hunter, Cathedral Church of St. Mark, speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Religious Communities (Bill Tibbitts – )   
 About those water project boondoggles…    Federal rules permit the use of ARPA funds for water infrastructure projects, but Utah would save billions of dollars and millions of gallons by investing in conservation first to reduce usage in one of the most water-wasteful states in the nation. Those ARPA dollars would be better used addressing the urgent unmet human needs of our fellow Utahns.   Utah Rivers Council – Zach Frankel –  and Lindsey Hutchison  
 Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion    

Our public fiscal policies – how we generate and expend public investment dollars – have a direct impact on whether we are widening or narrowing the gaps between different groups in Utah. The new Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion must be more than just words on a page.

 https://slchamber.com/public-policy/utah-compact/ 
 Angel Castillo, Ogden NAACP  

 TOTAL

$5.177 billion – more than double the amount of “surplus” revenue that the Legislature expects to have   

  3.4b tax cut USTC

3.4b tax cut text

 Invest press conf 11 8 21

Live recording of the Invest in Utah's Future press conference 11/8/21: https://fb.watch/99bpgYEAqp/ 

Printable version of this document is here

Media coverage is posted at KSL and Deseret News and Fox-13.  

ONE PAGERS ABOUT THE VARIOUS UNMET NEEDS: 

Published in News & Blog
February 24, 2021

The High Price of Lower Taxes

Legislative leaders have said that 2021 should be “the year of the tax cut.” Numerous public opinion surveys show that Utahns disagree. This may come as a surprise to policymakers, who have been in the habit of handing out tax break after tax break for decades.

But there seems to be an increasing public awareness that Utah is now paying a price for decades of tax cutting that have left us with the lowest overall tax level in 50 years relative to Utah personal income.

UTAH'S URGENT UNMET NEEDS

We all like being able to pay less in taxes. But there is a growing understanding that tax cuts are leaving us unable to address the long list of urgent unmet needs in education, infrastructure, social services, air quality, public health, and many other areas that affect our standard of living and quality of life. All of these issues will shape the Utah that our children will one day inherit. 

Outlined below are some examples of the urgent unmet needs in Utah. 

Early Care and Education

Amount

Unmet Need

$500-600 Million/Year

Envision Utah estimates that we need to invest an additional $500-600 million each year just to reduce teacher turnover, where we rank among the worst in the nation. 

Our leaders’ unwillingness to solve our education underinvestment problem is why our high school graduation rate is below the national average (after adjusting for demographics) and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).

$52.5 Million/Year Voices for Utah Children estimates that it will cost $52.5 million to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.
$1 Billion Well over $1 billion is one estimate for a much needed comprehensive system of early childhood care and education (pre-k) in Utah.

 

Health

Amount

Unmet Need

$59 Million/Year

It would cost Utah about $59 million each year to cover all of our 82,000 uninsured children.

The longstanding preference for tax cuts over covering all kids is why we rank last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and why the state as a whole ranks in the bottom 10 nationally for uninsured children.

 

Human Services

Area 

Unmet Need

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

Utah ranks last in the nation for mental health treatment access, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.

A 2020 report from the Legislative Auditor General found that Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative had failed to achieve its goal to reduce recidivism -- and actually saw recidivism rise -- in part because “both the availability and the quality of the drug addiction and mental health treatment are still inadequate.” (pg 51)

Disability Services

The DSPD disability services waiting list has doubled in the last decade from 1,953 people with disabilities in 2010 to 3,911 in 2020.

The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list.  

Domestic Violence The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 2017 Needs Assessment identified insufficient funding for shelters, affordable housing, child care, legal representation, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services as major obstacles to protecting women from domestic violence. 
Seniors

The official poverty measure undercounts senior poverty by about a third because it does not consider the impact of out-of-pocket medical expenses.

2018 study found that seniors spent $5,503 per person on out-of-pocket medical expenses in 2013, making up 41% of their Social Security income. (For most seniors, Social Security is the majority of their income, and it makes up 90% or more of income for 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried seniors.)  

 

Infrastructure, Environment, and Housing

 Area

Unmet Need

Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Utah a C+ grade for infrastructure in its December 2020 report

The Utah Transportation Coalition has identified a funding shortfall of nearly $8 billion over the next two decades.

Air Quality  The Wasatch Front ranks as the 11th worst air quality in the nation for ozone and 7th worst for short-term particle pollution
Housing

Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden.

The FY21 affordable housing appropriation request for $35 million from Sen. Anderegg, which was already just a small step in the right direction, was reduced to just $5 million.

 

WHY TAX CUTS ARE A BIG DEAL

Some legislators have said to us, "What's the big deal with $100 million of tax cuts out of a $22 billion budget?".

The big deal is that we’ve been cutting, on average, about $100 million every single year for the last 25 years.

Voices for Utah Children’s research has found that tax cuts from the last 25 years has left us short $2.4 billion each year, amounting to an 18% cut to public revenues.

One could even call us a “slow-motion Kansas” because in 2012 they cut taxes overnight by 15%, leading to an economic slump and political backlash that saw the Republican legislature reverse the cuts in 2017 and the public elect a Democratic governor in 2018.

But here in Utah, we’re like the proverbial frog in the pot of water heating on the stove. The devastating impacts of these revenue reductions have been slow and incremental, so we’ve come to accept as normal a state of affairs that Kansans quickly reversed.

Instead of figuring out the fairest way to restore some of those lost revenues so we can address our most urgent challenges, Utah’s political leadership continues to pass new tax cuts every year, generally skewed toward the top of the income scale.

For example, Voices for Utah Children analyzed two of the tax cuts proposed this year and found that they excluded lower-income Utahns completely and mostly went to the highest-income households – even though their supporters said publicly that they are intended to help low- and middle-income Utahns.

Public opinion surveys conducted last year by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute, by the Utah Foundation, and by Envision Utah all found a strong popular preference for public investment over tax cuts.

Same thing with surveys this month by the Deseret News-Hinckley Institute and by Voices for Utah Children.

Breaking old habits can be hard. As is often the case, the public appears to be ahead of our political leaders. But let's hope that they too will eventually come to appreciate the wisdom of their constituents, who are increasingly aware of the high price Utah is paying for lower taxes.


Utah has been fortunate in weathering the current recession. This gives us a unique opportunity to be able to make smart long-term investments at a time when other states are cutting budgets. As a State we need to take advantage of this situation and invest in Utah kids, not tax cuts.

THIS OP-ED APPEARED IN THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE ON MARCH 1, 2021

Published in News & Blog

Salt Lake City - Voices for Utah Children released publicly today (January 6, 2021)  "#InvestInUtahKids: An Agenda for Utah's New Governor and Legislature," the first major publication of our new #InvestInUtahKids initiative. 

Utah begins a new era in this first week of January, with the swearing in of a new Governor and Lt. Governor and a new Legislature. The arrival of 2021 marks the first time in over a decade that the state has seen this kind of leadership transition. Last month Voices for Utah Children began sharing with the Governor-elect and his transition teams the new publication, and on Wednesday morning Voices will share it with the public as well.

The new publication raises concerns about the growing gaps among Utah's different racial, ethnic, and economic groups and lays out the most urgent and effective policies to close those gaps and help all Utah children achieve their full potential in the years to come in five policy areas: 

  • Early education 
  • K-12 education 
  • Healthcare
  • Juvenile justice
  • Immigrant family justice

The report, which was initially created in December and distributed to the incoming Governor and his transition teams, closes with a discussion of how to pay for the proposed #InvestInUtahKids policy agenda. The pdf of the report can be downloaded here

Published in News & Blog

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20(view this as a pdf here)

The state's leading child research and advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children announced its opposition to Constitutional Amendment G in an online press conference today (Monday, October 5, 2020).  

Constitutional Amendment G is the proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to end the Constitutional earmark of all income tax revenues for education.  Since 1946 Utah has dedicated 100% of income tax revenues to education, initially defined only as K-12 education and, since 1996, including also higher education.  The State Legislature voted in March to place on the ballot the question of also allowing these funds to be used for other purposes -- specifically for programs for children and for Utahns with disabilities.  

The arguments made by proponents and opponents are summarized in an online document prepared by the state election administrators in the Lt Governor's office. According to that document, "the state spends about $600 million annually of non-income tax money on programs for children and programs that benefit people with a disability."

Voices for Utah Children CEO Maurice "Moe" Hickey explained the organization's decision to oppose the Amendment: "We believe that the proposed Amendment not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed. Over the past decade we have been continuously ranked last in the country for per pupil spending. This is a caused by our growth in number of students, combined with a lowered tax burden in the past decade. A major question we have to ask is “if the current Constitutional earmark has failed to help Utah invest more in education, how will getting rid of it improve matters?” The unfortunate reality is that getting rid of the Constitutional earmark of income tax for education does nothing to solve the real problem, which is the fact that nearly every area of state responsibility where children are impacted – education, social services, public health, and many others – is dangerously underfunded."

Health Policy Analyst Ciriac Alvarez Valle said, "Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country at 8% or 82,000 children, and we have an even higher rate of uninsured Latino children at almost 20%. It is alarming that even during this pandemic, children and families are going without health insurance. There are so many ways to reverse this negative trend that began in 2016. Some of the solutions include investing in our kid’s healthcare. By investing in outreach and enrollment efforts especially those that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our communities of color, we can ensure they are being reached. We also have to invest in policies that keep kids covered all year round and ensures they have no gaps in coverage. and lastly, we have to invest in covering all children regardless of their immigration status. By doing these things we can ensure that kids have a foundation for their long term health and needs. It's vital that we keep children’s health at the forefront of this issue, knowing that kids can only come to school ready to learn if they are able to get the resources they need to be healthy."

Health Policy Analyst Jessie Mandle added, "All kids need to have care and coverage in order to succeed in school. We are no strangers to the funding challenges and the many competing demands of social services funding. Without greater clarity, more detail, and planning, we are left to ask, are we simply moving the funding of children’s health services into another pool, competing with education funding, instead of prioritizing and investing in both critical areas? Sufficient funding for critical children’s services including school nurse, home visiting and early intervention, and school-based preventive care remains a challenge for our state. We have made important strides in recent years for children’s health, recognizing that kids cannot be optimal learners without optimal health. Let’s keep investing, keep moving forward together so that kids can get the education, health and wraparound services they need."

Education Policy Analyst Anna Thomas: "We often hear that UT is dead last in the nation in per pupil funding. We have also heard from such leaders as Envision Utah that millions of dollars are needed to avert an urgent and growing teacher shortage. What we talk about less is the fact that these typical conservative calculations of our state’s underfunding of education don’t include the amount the state should be paying for the full-day kindergarten programming most Utah families want, nor does it include the tens of millions our state has never bothered to spend on preschool programs to ensure all Utah children can start school with the same opportunities to succeed. Utah currently masks this underfunding with dollars from various federal programs, but this federal funding is not equitably available to meet the needs of all Utah children who deserve these critical early interventions. The state also increasingly relies on local communities to make up the difference through growing local tax burdens - which creates an impossible situation for some of our rural school districts, where local property tax will never be able to properly fund early interventions like preschool and full-day kindergarten along with everything else they are responsible for. Our lack of investment in early education is something we pay for, much less efficiently and much less wisely, later down the road, when children drop out of school, experience mental and physical health issues, and get pulled into bad decisions and misconduct. If kids aren’t able to hit certain learning benchmarks in literacy and math by third grade, their struggles in school - and often by extension outside of school - multiply. We should be investing as much as possible in our children to help ensure they have real access to future success - and can contribute to our state's future success. You don’t have to be a math whiz - third grade math is probably plenty - to see that the general arithmetic of Amendment G, and the attendant promises of somehow more investment in everything that helps kids - just doesn’t add up. We have multiple unmet early education investment obligations right now. Beyond that, we have many more needs, for children and for people with disabilities, that we must be sensitive to as a state especially during a global pandemic. How we will ensure we are investing responsibly in our children and our future, by having MORE expenses come out of the same pot of money - which the legislature tells us every year is too small to help all the Utah families we advocate for - is still very unclear to me. Until that math is made transparent to the public, we have to judge Amendment G to be, at best, half-baked in its current incarnation."

Fiscal Policy Analyst Matthew Weinstein shared information from the Tax Commission (see slide #8) showing that Utah's overall level of taxation is now at its lowest level in 50 years relative to Utahns' incomes, following multiple rounds of tax cutting. He also shared recent survey data from the Utah Foundation showing that three-fourths of Utahns oppose cutting taxes further and are ready and willing to contribute more if necessary to help solve the state's current challenges in areas like education, air quality, and transportation. He also contrasted the public's understanding that there's no "free lunch" with the unrealistic election-year promises made by our political leadership -- more money for both education and social services if the public votes for Amendment G -- even though Amendment G does nothing to reverse any past tax cuts and address the state's chronic revenue shortages.

The organization shared a one-page summary of the arguments (available here in pdf format) for and against the proposed Constitutional Amendment: 

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

Voices for Utah Children has also published a full five-page position paper that is available in pdf format

This press conference was broadcast live at

Media coverage: 

Published in News & Blog

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The state's leading child research and advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children announced its opposition to Constitutional Amendment G in an online press conference today (Monday, October 5, 2020).  

Constitutional Amendment G is the proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to end the Constitutional earmark of all income tax revenues for education.  Since 1946 Utah has dedicated 100% of income tax revenues to education, initially defined only as K-12 education and, since 1996, including also higher education.  The State Legislature voted in March to place on the ballot the question of also allowing these funds to be used for other purposes -- specifically for programs for children and for Utahns with disabilities.  

The arguments made by proponents and opponents are summarized in an online document prepared by the state election administrators in the Lt Governor's office. According to that document, "the state spends about $600 million annually of non-income tax money on programs for children and programs that benefit people with a disability."

Voices for Utah Children CEO Maurice "Moe" Hickey explained the organization's decision to oppose the Amendment: "We believe that the proposed Amendment not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed. Over the past decade we have been continuously ranked last in the country for per pupil spending. This is a caused by our growth in number of students, combined with a lowered tax burden in the past decade. A major question we have to ask is “if the current Constitutional earmark has failed to help Utah invest more in education, how will getting rid of it improve matters?” The unfortunate reality is that getting rid of the Constitutional earmark of income tax for education does nothing to solve the real problem, which is the fact that nearly every area of state responsibility where children are impacted – education, social services, public health, and many others – is dangerously underfunded."

Health Policy Analyst Ciriac Alvarez Valle said, "Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country at 8% or 82,000 children, and we have an even higher rate of uninsured Latino children at almost 20%. It is alarming that even during this pandemic, children and families are going without health insurance. There are so many ways to reverse this negative trend that began in 2016. Some of the solutions include investing in our kid’s healthcare. By investing in outreach and enrollment efforts especially those that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our communities of color, we can ensure they are being reached. We also have to invest in policies that keep kids covered all year round and ensures they have no gaps in coverage. and lastly, we have to invest in covering all children regardless of their immigration status. By doing these things we can ensure that kids have a foundation for their long term health and needs. It's vital that we keep children’s health at the forefront of this issue, knowing that kids can only come to school ready to learn if they are able to get the resources they need to be healthy."

Health Policy Analyst Jessie Mandle added, "All kids need to have care and coverage in order to succeed in school. We are no strangers to the funding challenges and the many competing demands of social services funding. Without greater clarity, more detail, and planning, we are left to ask, are we simply moving the funding of children’s health services into another pool, competing with education funding, instead of prioritizing and investing in both critical areas? Sufficient funding for critical children’s services including school nurse, home visiting and early intervention, and school-based preventive care remains a challenge for our state. We have made important strides in recent years for children’s health, recognizing that kids cannot be optimal learners without optimal health. Let’s keep investing, keep moving forward together so that kids can get the education, health and wraparound services they need."

Education Policy Analyst Anna Thomas: "We often hear that UT is dead last in the nation in per pupil funding. We have also heard from such leaders as Envision Utah that millions of dollars are needed to avert an urgent and growing teacher shortage. What we talk about less is the fact that these typical conservative calculations of our state’s underfunding of education don’t include the amount the state should be paying for the full-day kindergarten programming most Utah families want, nor does it include the tens of millions our state has never bothered to spend on preschool programs to ensure all Utah children can start school with the same opportunities to succeed. Utah currently masks this underfunding with dollars from various federal programs, but this federal funding is not equitably available to meet the needs of all Utah children who deserve these critical early interventions. The state also increasingly relies on local communities to make up the difference through growing local tax burdens - which creates an impossible situation for some of our rural school districts, where local property tax will never be able to properly fund early interventions like preschool and full-day kindergarten along with everything else they are responsible for. Our lack of investment in early education is something we pay for, much less efficiently and much less wisely, later down the road, when children drop out of school, experience mental and physical health issues, and get pulled into bad decisions and misconduct. If kids aren’t able to hit certain learning benchmarks in literacy and math by third grade, their struggles in school - and often by extension outside of school - multiply. We should be investing as much as possible in our children to help ensure they have real access to future success - and can contribute to our state's future success. You don’t have to be a math whiz - third grade math is probably plenty - to see that the general arithmetic of Amendment G, and the attendant promises of somehow more investment in everything that helps kids - just doesn’t add up. We have multiple unmet early education investment obligations right now. Beyond that, we have many more needs, for children and for people with disabilities, that we must be sensitive to as a state especially during a global pandemic. How we will ensure we are investing responsibly in our children and our future, by having MORE expenses come out of the same pot of money - which the legislature tells us every year is too small to help all the Utah families we advocate for - is still very unclear to me. Until that math is made transparent to the public, we have to judge Amendment G to be, at best, half-baked in its current incarnation."

Fiscal Policy Analyst Matthew Weinstein shared information from the Tax Commission (see slide #8) showing that Utah's overall level of taxation is now at its lowest level in 50 years relative to Utahns' incomes, following multiple rounds of tax cutting. He also shared recent survey data from the Utah Foundation showing that three-fourths of Utahns oppose cutting taxes further and are ready and willing to contribute more if necessary to help solve the state's current challenges in areas like education, air quality, and transportation. He contrasted the public's understanding that there's no "free lunch" with the unrealistic election-year promises made by our political leadership -- more money for both education and social services if the public votes for Amendment G -- even though Amendment G does nothing to reverse any past tax breaks and address the state's chronic revenue shortages.

The organization shared a one-page summary of the arguments for and against the proposed Constitutional Amendment: 

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The organization also published a full five-page position paper that is available in pdf format

Published in Press Releases
July 30, 2020

Family Economic Success

Economic Growth, Taxes, and Investments in Families and Children

Taxes: Every year, Utah's taxes (income, sales, gas, and property taxes) generate revenues that government then expends in ways that profoundly affect families and communities. The fiscal choices Utah makes — such as whether to invest in Utah's future or give in to the temptation to cut taxes below their current overall low level — will make a critical difference in the lives of the next generation of Utahns. If we make the best choices, we can help foster opportunity for all our children and lay the foundations for Utah's future growth and prosperity.

Recently the Utah State Tax Commission and the Utah Foundation both published research showing that taxes in Utah are the lowest that they have been in 30-50 years, following repeated rounds of tax cutting. Tax cutting is thought to be popular, especially in election years, but is it always wise? At some point we need to ask ourselves a difficult question: Is the current generation of Utahns doing our part, as earlier generations did, to set aside sufficient resources every year to invest in our children, in our future, in the foundations of our children's prosperity and quality of life? And more immediately and specifically, given the Coronavirus Recession's expected impacts on the Utah state budget, should we reconsider the 2018 election-year decision to reduce our income tax rate from 5% to 4.95%, a $50 million tax cut that mostly benefitted high-income households? 

The supposed popularity of tax cutting has been called into question by 2020 polling data. For example, during the 2020 legislative session, the Deseret News found that only 10% of Utahns thought that the expected Education Fund surplus should be used for tax cuts rather than enhanced education investment. And the Utah Foundation found similar results in their election issue survey -- less than one-quarter of Utahns support tax cuts that erode the state's ability to deliver the services Utahns need, while "74% of Utahns were willing to increase their taxes for a specific benefit" (either education, transportation, or air quality). 

Voices for Utah Children's fiscal policy program works to ensure that we invest sufficient resources to ensure that our kids get world-class education and health care as well as special support for children most in need.

At the same time, we also work to ensure that public revenues are generated in ways that are fair. No family should be taxed into poverty as the price of educating their children. Currently, while we've moved in a better direction over the past 25 years, Utah does tax about 100,000 families into or deeper into poverty every year. In addition, the lowest-income Utahns pay a higher overall tax rate (7.5%) than those with the highest incomes (who pay 6.7% of their incomes in state and local taxes). That's one of the reasons why Voices for Utah Children supports making Utah the 30th state in the nation with our own Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), starting with Utahns working their way out of intergenerational poverty. 

Economic Performance: Voices for Utah Children examines and reports on Utah's economic performance from the perspective of how low- and moderate-income Utahns experience the economy -- some examples appear in the links below: 

Why Utah Should Invest In Our Future, Not Tax Cuts

Voices for Utah Children's Assessment of the Positive and Negative Aspects of the December 2019 Tax Restructuring Effort

Why Should Utah Become the 30th State with Our Own Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)?

The History of Tax Incidence in Utah 1995-2018   

Inequality in Utah Compared to Other States and the Nation

Utah Working Families Economic Performance Benchmarking Project: Utah vs. Idaho

We work to equip lawmakers, journalists, advocacy organizations, other nonprofit service providers and the public with unassailable information that will help children get a quality education, help families get medical care, and help working people get the support they need to build a better life for their children.

Published in 2020 Issues
Tagged under

Last night, December 12, 2019, the Utah Legislature passed a tax restructuring package in a special legislative session.

Voices for Utah Children was very involved in this process over the course of the year. We attended the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (TRETF) hearings, generated public comment, released our position paper in September, and later that month participated in a poverty advocates' coalition letter signed by 27 non-profits that work with and advocate for lower-income Utahns. We published two op-eds on September 14 and November 26 as well as numerous blog and Facebook posts and tweets. We also worked directly with Task Force members to evaluate and shape the Task Force proposals.

From the start, we focused on two questions:

  1. Does the tax proposal reduce the regressivity in Utah's tax system so that we are taxing fewer Utah families into - or deeper into - poverty?  Currently, Utah's overall tax system is regressive, in the sense that lower- and middle-income Utahns pay a higher overall tax rate than upper-income Utahns.
  2. Does the tax proposal enable Utah to invest more in the long run in Utah's children -- their education, their health, their future prospects to become productive members of their communities and of our state? The State Tax Commission and the Utah Foundation have both published research this year documenting that our overall level of taxation stands at a multi-decade low, raising the question of whether the current generation of Utahns is doing our part, as earlier generations did, to set aside sufficient resources every year to invest in our children. As the poverty advocates' coalition letter detailed, our decades of tax cutting have left Utah with billions of dollars in urgent unmet needs in numerous areas.

So how did the final bill passed last night stack up according to these criteria?

Will it reduce regressivity?

While the idea of bringing back the full sales tax on food was not a part of our proposals, and in fact we proposed eliminating the sales tax on food entirely, our analysis of the near-final version of the bill found that, overall, it will reduce the impact of Utah's taxes for lower-income Utahns from 7.5% of their incomes to 7%, or by about $100 per year, IF they file for the new Grocery Tax Credit (GTC).

The Legislature’s analysts estimate that 30,000-50,000 low-income Utah households do not file taxes every year, because their incomes fall below the mandatory minimum.  Thus, in order to maximize the number of households who file for the credit, Voices for Utah Children proposed, fought hard for, and, on the final day, won inclusion in the package of $500,000 to market the new tax credit to its target population. We also recommended that the bill be amended to add an automatic inflation adjustment for the GTC so that it would not lose its value over time, but that was not included in the bill.

Grocery Tax Credits have considerable drawbacks (mainly that they require the filing of paperwork to obtain them) and vary greatly among the half-dozen states that have them. But the one passed last night will likely be the most generous and accessible one in the nation for lower-income households, based on the amount of the credit, its eligibility rules, and the commitment to invest substantial resources to publicize it.

The bill also makes Utah the 30th state with our own Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), amounting to 10% of the federal credit and fully refundable, aimed at the 25,000 working families in Utah's intergenerational poverty (IGP) cohort. The inclusion of this provision – which was pulled from the bill for several very tense hours Thursday afternoon – is a credit to the persistence of Rep. Robert Spendlove, the sponsor of HB 103, chair of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and member of the TRETF.  This is something that many Utahns have sought for decades, and Voices for Utah Children is grateful to the dozens of partnering organizations that have advocated for it alongside us in recent years.

Will it invest more in children?

Unfortunately, the answer here is no. The Governor and Legislature gave in to the election-year temptation to boast about a big tax cut. The bill reduces income taxes by over $600 million and replaces less than $500 million of that revenue with new sales taxes, leaving the state with $160 million less revenue every year going forward to invest in Utah's children.

Voices for Utah Children had strongly advised against using the state's current temporary fiscal surplus to permanently reduce revenues. We see this as a missed opportunity to act now for the state's long-term future, especially given that the shift from income taxes to sales taxes brings in tens of millions of new dollars from non-Utahns, which would have made it possible to offer an in-state tax cut while enhancing revenues or at least holding them steady.  

Moreover, the shift from the faster-growing income tax to the slower-growing gas and grocery sales tax raises the question of whether public revenues will keep up with our fast-growing economy and population in the years to come, a point noted by Rep. Tim Quinn at the final TRETF meeting this past Monday. On the positive side, the bill does expand the sales tax base to some services and closes some outdated sales tax exemptions, which are small but important steps in the right direction.  

It is also noteworthy that, because of the income tax rate reduction from 4.95% to 4.66%, about half of the overall net in-state tax cut of about $200 million annually goes to the top quintile of Utahns, those making over about $120,000 per year, and most of that half goes to the top 1% of Utah households, those earning over about $590,000. 

As detailed in the poverty advocates’ coalition letter, our state suffers from chronic revenue shortages in numerous areas due to our decades of tax cutting, and these shortages disproportionately impact lower-income households. They also keep Utah from getting out ahead of our next-generation challenges, such as closing the majority-minority gaps that are worsening over time, even as our non-white communities are growing and becoming a more integral part of every region of Utah. 

Thus, it is clear that a major challenge remains before Voices for Utah Children and other advocates in the years to come to make the case to the public and policymakers that it is worth investing more in our children, not less.  

Published in News & Blog