Poverty

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
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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