Tax and Budget

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

In-State vs Out-of-State Effects: The Key to Tax Restructuring Success?

If someone told you that the key to the success of the Utah Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force may well be found in an examination of the in-state vs out-of-state effects of the current draft proposal, your eyes would probably glaze over and you might suddenly recall a dentist appointment that you had forgotten. 

But wait!  Please tell the dentist you’ll reschedule and take a few minutes to read on.

Kansas: Tax Cuts That Went Too Far

The greatest danger for Utah’s future in the current debate is that fans of anti-tax/anti-government Pied Piper Grover Norquist and former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback will try to take advantage of the political pressures of the coming election year to follow in the footsteps of Kansas and include in the package a large revenue reduction. After all, tax cuts are always popular, and Utah has been giving in to that temptation for years.

Yet we know what an economic disappointment those tax cuts were in Kansas (it turns out that underinvesting in education and infrastructure does not actually help grow the economy), leading to devastating losses in subsequent elections for the plan’s proponents. The suddenly more moderate (while still Republican) Kansas legislature subsequently rolled back the tax cuts (though the voter backlash went on, electing a Democratic Governor last year in that very red state).

Apparently, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, even when it comes to tax cuts.

Successive rounds of tax cuts have left Utah with our lowest tax levels in decades, according to recent data from both the Utah Foundation and the Utah State Tax Commission. According to the Utah Foundation, the tax cuts of the last two decades have moved us from having the 6th highest taxes in the nation to #31 (even as we continue to have the nation’s highest percentage of children to educate). The Tax Foundation says that today we rank in the top 10 states for our business tax climate. By all accounts, our economy is booming and generating all the jobs we need, with an unemployment rate currently measured at 2.7%. So is it wise at this stage to use our temporary budget surplus to make even more permanent cuts to state revenues? Such additional tax cuts seem likely to have one of two possible outcomes, neither very desirable: Either they could rev our job-creating engine to the point that we’re creating enough new jobs not just for the next generation of Utahns but for hundreds of thousands of Californians to move here as well, or they could undermine the educational and infrastructural foundations of our long-term economic prosperity, as was the case in Kansas.  Indeed, the tax cuts of recent decades have already crippled our ability to invest in education, infrastructure, air quality, public health, poverty prevention, and so many other areas where we have urgent unmet needs.

Should We Apply the Solutions of the Past to the Challenges of Today?

Certainly there is a strong case to be made that the tax cuts of recent decades helped Utah achieve our current economic success. Perhaps our most significant economic achievement of the last 20 years is that Utah has moved from being a low-wage state to middle-wage status, based on our rank for median hourly wage over the last two decades (#39 in 2006 vs. #27 last year). But rather than applying the solutions of the past to the challenges of today, the progress we've made puts us in a new position and allows us to ask a new question: Now that we have achieved middle-wage status, how can we, in the decades to come, follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Minnesota and move toward becoming a high-wage state?

Utah Has Fallen Behind on Educational Attainment

The secret to those states’ success lies in their higher levels of educational attainment.  But right now Utah is behind on educational attainment. It is well-known that our teacher attrition rates are too high and so are our class sizes. But it is less well-known that, adjusted for demographics, our high school graduation rate is also behind the national average. In other words, for example, if you are White or Latino in Utah, you are less likely to graduate high school than Whites or Latinos nationally. At the college level, we have fallen behind national trends for BA/BS+ attainment among our younger generation, with only 34% of Utahns ages 25-34 having graduated college compared to 36% nationally, according to the latest 2018 Census data.

Utah’s Next Great Challenge: Our Growing Majority-Minority Gaps

Moreover, Utah is in the midst of a demographic transformation that is enriching our state immeasurably but also bringing majority-minority gaps of a type and at a scale that our state has not had to confront in the past. Education Week magazine recently ranked Utah among the worst 10 states for our growing educational achievement gap between haves and have-nots. Now is the time to make the upfront investments that will help us avoid going the way of other states that failed to close those gaps when they had the chance to do so in the most cost-effective manner.

While there is little doubt that Utah does more with less better than any other state, we will not close our growing gaps and raise our educational attainment as long as we are stuck in last place for per-pupil investment. The unfortunate reality remains that our very real economic progress of recent decades has not resulted in increased investment in education.  Rather, our total inflation-adjusted per-student state + local K-12 education revenues remained below pre-recession levels last year. 

In-State vs. Out-of-State Effects

If we can agree that there could be real downsides to making additional cuts to state revenues in the proposed tax restructuring package, then what does this have to do with in-state vs. out-of-state effects of the proposed tax changes, and how could understanding those effects potentially save the package?

The answer is that the draft package’s roughly $600 million shift of revenues from income taxes to sales taxes also brings with it a less-noticed shift of about $100 million from in-state payers (aka Utahns) to out-of-state payers (non-Utahns). This is because a much higher share of the sales tax than of the income tax is paid by non-Utahns – about 25% of all sales tax revenues (though a much higher 40% for the gas tax and a much lower 5% for the grocery tax since tourists mostly eat prepared foods, which are already fully taxable). (That exact percent varies slightly from state to state. The state of Texas, for example, estimates that 21% of their sales tax is paid by non-Texans. while Minnesota estimates 23% for their sales tax.*)

The Implications of $100 Million of New Revenue from Out-of-State

The first implication of this $100 million shift is that the Task Force’s claim of an $80 million tax cut in their draft package actually understates the in-state tax cut (the tax cut for us Utahns) by roughly $100 million. This means that the draft package actually proposes a $180 million tax cut for Utahns -- in a package that costs the state $80 million of revenue annually.

The further implication of this is that the package could very easily be adjusted (simply by changing the proposed income tax rate) to make it revenue neutral overall – and still have a $100 million tax cut for Utahns.

But, building on the discussion above about our urgent unmet needs and chronic revenue shortages, the best implication of this in-state vs out-of-state shift is that this package could achieve one of the holy grails of tax policy – getting non-Utahns to pay for the things we Utahns need (education, infrastructure, etc.) – by using the new out-of-state revenue to get this package out of the red and permit a $100 million revenue enhancement for the state budget without costing Utahns a dime.

The Compromise That Could Carry the Day

But politics is politics, and politicians are politicians, and next year is an election year. Which brings us to the compromise that could potentially save this package: Take that $100 million of new out-of-state money and split it 50-50: Make the package $50 million revenue-positive so we can improve education and infrastructure and use the other $50 million for an in-state tax cut. Which is probably not anyone’s ideal solution, but it just might be the compromise that can carry the day.

* Here are the reports from the Texas and Minnesota state tax agencies that analyze the topic of exporting tax incidence to non-residents:

Published in News & Blog

Tax Restructuring Process Picks Up Speed 

Last week (October 22, 2019) the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (TRETF) adopted its co-chairs’ proposal as its working document, passing a motion to produce draft legislation based on it for consideration at the Task Force’s next meeting on November 7th.    

The chairs’ proposal is a mixed bag. When viewed through the lens of our tax reform position paper, we can say that it offers the potential to make Utah’s tax structure less regressive for most low-income Utahns, which would be welcome, but it also reduces overall public revenues by $79 million through an income tax rate cut that awards most of the total tax reduction to the wealthiest Utahns.

Utah’s current overall tax structure is regressive, in the sense that low- and middle-income Utahns pay 7.5%-8.8% of their incomes in state and local taxes, while the highest income Utahns pay just 6.7%. Under the Task Force co-chairs’ proposal, the tax rate for the lowest income Utahns would be reduced from 7.5% to 7%, at least on paper, but that estimate of a 0.5-percent-of-income reduction for the poor assumes that everyone who is eligible will file for the proposed new grocery tax credit that is intended to offset the regressive impact of the proposed increase in the state sales tax on groceries from 1.75% to 4.85%. We know from real-life experience that a considerable share of low-income Utahns will not file for the credit, mostly because they won’t know about it and because many low-income Utahns are not in the habit of filing tax forms every year because they are not required to do so, since their incomes are below the minimum threshold for mandatory filing. 

The key to making this new proposed grocery tax credit a meaningful offset is to publicize it effectively to lower-income Utahns so that they will know about it and file for it. Right now, unfortunately, Utah gets a failing grade for our meager efforts to publicize the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the closest analog to the proposed new grocery tax credit. The state budget included just $130,000 this year to help lower-income Utahns file for the EITC, which helps explain why our participation rate is estimated by the IRS at only 75% of eligible households, well below the national average of 80%.

Thus, Voices for Utah Children testified before the TRETF last week that Utah needs to increase our investment in publicizing low-income tax credits from a six-figure line item to a seven-figure item. Fortunately, this would be an expenditure with the potential to pay for itself because it will mean more Utahns will file not just for the new proposed grocery tax credit and IGP EITC included in the co-chairs’ proposal (thanks to an amendment offered by Rep. Robert Spendlove), but also for the federal EITC. If Utah were to reach the national average of 80% EITC participation among eligible households, that could result in an additional $30 million of consumer spending by lower-income households, most of which would likely be subject to the state sales tax, the increased revenue from which could well exceed the amount budgeted to publicize the new tax credits.

Voices for Utah Children will continue to press for the TRETF proposal to add a line item setting aside at least $1 million to publicize the new tax credits. Doing so would position Utah to have the most effective grocery tax credit among the handful of states that employ such a credit to try to shield low-income residents from the regressive effects of the sales tax on food. 

Regarding the co-chairs’ proposal’s impact on overall Utah revenues, Voices for Utah Children participated in a coalition letter released last month in which 27 nonprofits serving lower-income Utahns documented a long list of urgent unmet needs that the state has not been able to address due to our chronic shortage of public revenues resulting from decades of tax cutting. Unfortunately, the co-chairs’ proposal makes use of a temporary state budget surplus to justify yet another permanent revenue reduction of $79 million annually. It must also be noted that this $79 million net revenue loss is almost exactly equal to the amount of the net tax cut going to the top 5% of Utahns, those earning over $238,000.

Therefore Voices for Utah Children will continue to advocate for removing from the proposal the part that reduces the statutory income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.59%, since about 60% of any income tax rate reduction goes to the highest income 20% of Utah households. This results from the fact that about 3/5 of all Utah income is earned by the top 1/5 of Utah households, and the state income tax matches the state's income distribution in this regard.

It is hard to avoid noticing the irony that this sector of top-earning Utahns that is benefitting the most from this proposed $79 million overall revenue reduction includes most of the leaders of the Our Schools Now proposal that just two years ago proposed to raise the income tax rate so that high-earning Utahns could contribute more to Utah’s education system. This certainly seemed to indicate at that time that upper-income Utahns were ready, willing, and able to invest more, not less, in Utah’s education system, where enhanced investment in Utah’s children would help lay the foundation for our state’s future prosperity and success. Voices for Utah Children hopes that many of these leading Utahns will speak up in the coming weeks to express their views on this proposed windfall for them that would accomplish the opposite of the goals of Our Schools Now. 

Published in News & Blog
Tagged under

The Tax Reform Task Force legislatively mandated during the 2019 general session by HB495 has been created. Meetings have not been scheduled but we expect to hear something soon. In the meantime, House Democrats are holding town hall meetings on tax reform.

Draft tax reform legislation is expected to include a statewide EITC. Other proposals include increasing the sales tax on food and using a state EITC as the offset. Advocate worry about families obtaining immediate savings on food vs waiting for a refund. Concerns have been raised about the 25% to 30% tax filers who don’t file taxes and their ability to obtain both a federal EITC and state EITC.

Voices has prepared a tax reform position paper and will monitor tax reform discussions, especially around broadening the base and lowering the rate to mitigate the shift of the tax burden on the lower and middle income families.

pdfVoices for Utah Children 2019 Tax Reform Position



Published in News & Blog
Tagged under

Utah Taxes: Tax Day Resources 2019

Voices for Utah Children works to make Utah a place where all children thrive. In furtherance of this mission, our fiscal policy research and advocacy program seeks to advance two priorities: 

      • Revenue Sufficiency: Ensuring that public revenues are sufficient to make the critical investments today in Utah’s children – especially those at risk of not achieving their full potential – so as to ensure the success and prosperity of our state tomorrow. 
      • Tax Fairness: Our system of generating public revenues – taxes – should seek to avoid driving low-income families into -- or deeper into – poverty. 

As Utah and the nation mark Tax Day 2019 on Monday, April 15, Voices for Utah Children offers the resources below from our recent publications and those of other organizations that shed light on how well Utah is doing in addressing the two challenges above. Especially at a time when policymakers are considering significant changes to Utah’s system of taxation, we hope these resources may help point the way toward a prosperous and successful future for all Utahns and all of Utah’s children. 

Revenue Sufficiency Resources

  • The new Utah Children’s Budget Report 2019 released earlier this year documents that Utah’s K-12 education budget (including both state and local revenues) fell last year in real terms both overall for the first time in seven years (by $41 million) and on a per-student basis by 1.9%, leaving it 1.3% below its pre-recession peak, even after nine years of economic expansion.p17EdChart


  • recent report found that Utah could generate an additional $103 million of Education Fund revenue by closing a state tax loophole that allows major international corporations doing business here – many in direct competition with local Utah businesses – to hide their profits in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands. 

UT ASimpleFix

Tax Fairness Resources

  • Utah’s overall system of state and local taxation is regressive. Low- and middle-income Utahns pay an overall effective tax rate that is higher than the rate paid by upper-income Utahns. For additional details, visit

 ITEP Who Pays Utah summary chart

  • Thanks to legislative champions including Rep. Robert Spendlove and Sen. Evan Vickers, the sponsors of HB 103 in the 2019 legislative session, as well as Rep. Tim Quinn, who included that proposal in his own HB 441Utah may be on the verge of creating our own state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The bill proposes to offset $7 million of the $25 million of state and local taxes paid by the lowest-income Utahns every year. To learn more about this legislative proposal and how it would help promote independence and self-sufficiency for Utahns seeking to work their way out of poverty, download the fact sheet at
  • Speaking of the EITC, only about 75% of eligible working Utahns file for this very valuable tax credit every year. This means tens of thousands of Utah households are losing the opportunity to receive an average refundable tax credit of over $2,000 -- up to a maximum of $6,400, depending on income and number of children. Utahns earning up to $54,000 can get free help with filing from certified volunteers at any VITA location – visit for details!
Published in Press Releases
Tagged under

 The Utah Legislature’s Tax Overhaul Plan – 3/5/19 Update

 HB441 Tax Equalization and Reduction Act, sponsored by Representative Tim Quinn

The bill is an attempt to modernize Utah’s tax structure to keep pace with Utah’s changing economy. It had its first hearing on 3/1/19, in House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee.

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 12 to 2 and was placed on the 3rd Reading Calendar. It will get a hearing on the floor of the House on 3/5/19, at 6pm.

A summary of Rep. Quinn’s presentation follows:




Implementation structure that phases-in the reduced sales tax rate to ensure assumptions are validated

  • Jan. 1, 2020 – state sales and use tax rate reduced from 4.7% to 3.9%
  • Oct. 1, 2020 – if sales and use tax revenue collections meet or exceed revenue estimates, state rate reduced from 3.9% to 3.1%
  • Fiscal Year 2020-2021 – any revenues collected in excess of revenue estimates put in restricted account to be used to lower sales and use tax rates

Yesterday (2/26/19) the Utah Legislature revealed its tax overhaul plan.

The plan marks the beginning of the Governor’s and Legislature’s attempt to modernize Utah’s tax structure to keep pace with a changing economy.

For detailed information about the Governor’s proposals click here.

For news reports which detail the Legislature’s plan click here and here.

We focus our attention on:

  • Reduction of sales tax rate from 4.7% to 3.1%
    • elimination of sales tax exemptions for businesses and services that are currently not required to pay sales tax.
  • Reduction of income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.75%
    • expand personal exemptions for low to middle income earners
    • implement a targeted state earned income tax credit (EITC)


We are encouraged to see light shined on businesses that are exempt from sales tax. Eliminating those tax exemptions expands responsibility for raising revenue to fund vital government services and infrastructure.

We are pleased the legislature included a targeted EITC for families experiencing intergenerational poverty. These working families earn less than $13,000 annually on average. The federal EITC ups their income by over $3000. A state EITC will provide another $300 on average and up to $650 depending on income and number of kids.  For many, this income boost will be the push needed to get their children out of poverty.


We are concerned about using this year’s temporary surplus to permanently lower the income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.75%. While a 0.2% reduction may seem minor, the decrease will harm Utah’s chronically underfunded schools.

Utah’s education system is predominately funded by state income tax revenue. Estimates show that for every 0.1 percent reduction in income tax rates, education funding will be reduced by $100 million. Last week’s Children’s Budget Report found that Utah’s education budget has been falling and remains below where it was a decade ago, before the Great Recession, so it can hardly afford to take another $200 million reduction.

Adding to our concern is Utah’s income tax is regressive at the top end, meaning that low to middle income families will continue paying a higher percent of their income to fund education than higher earning families.


As the bill goes through the public hearing process in the final weeks of the legislative session, Voices will monitor and provide input to ensure that Utah’s tax system is equitable and a shared responsibility among citizens and businesses alike.

Published in News & Blog
Tagged under

The 2018 Legislative Session is over. Voices for Utah Children worked tirelessly to advocate for Utah’s children and families, and we had some great wins and some painful losses. Nonetheless, Utah children and families are in a better place now than they were in January.


WIN: HB12 Family Planning Services Amendments (Rep. Ward)

  • This legislation was championed by a number of Voices allies (YWCA, Utah Women’s Coalition, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood) to provide family planning services to low-income individuals through Medicaid

WIN: HB325 Primary Care Network Amendments (Rep. Eliason)

  • This bill will direct the Department of Health to get a waiver to expand current PCN services for adults receiving coverage from the state. 

DEFEATED: SB48 Medicaid Waiting Period Amendments (Sen. Christensen)

  • This legislation would have re-imposed a five-year waiting period on legal immigrant children before they could enroll in health coverage. Our advocacy work helped ensure this bill never got heard

DEFEATED: SB 172 Medicaid Waiver (Sen. Hemmert)

  • This bill would have done away with Medicaid’s children’s health benefit and EPSDT. This would have caused 2,600 parents and former foster youth to lose their health coverage. Voices  defeated it in the House Health and Human Services Committee and again in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

LOSS: Keeping Kids Covered – 12-month continuous eligibility on Medicaid

  • Rep. Ward appropriation requested wasn’t prioritized high enough to receive funding this year.

LOSS: Dental hygiene check-ups for kids in public education settings

  • Dental Code for use by dental professionals providing hygiene check-ups for kids in public education settings - did not get prioritized high enough to be funded for this year - but we’ve strengthened our relationship with a huge association of highly motivated dental hygienists!  

LOSS: HB472 Medicaid Expansion Revisions (Rep. Spendlove)

  • HB472 seeks a waiver, that is highly unlikely Utah will receive from the Trump Administration. This waiver would provide Medicaid benefits to eligible individuals below 95% of the federal poverty level.

The Utah Decides Ballot Initiative is now our last hope to get Medicaid expansion done in 2018.

Early Childhood 

LOSS - HB319 Early Care and Learning Coordination Amendments (Rep. Chavez-Houck)

  • A priority bill to form an Early Childhood Commission for better governance and coordination among agencies offering services to Utah’s youngest kids (0 to 5).

WIN - HB380 Utah School Readiness Initiative Amendments – (Rep. Last)

  • With a close collaboration with United Way of Salt Lake, this bill will continue the school readiness program, Pay-for-Success. Since 2014 this has provided thousands of at-risk kids in Salt Lake county with high-quality pre-school.

WIN - SCR11 Concurrent Resolution on Awareness and Treatment of Maternal Depression and Anxiety (Sen. Zehnder)

  • With the efforts of the Maternal Mental Health Coalition, this resolution energized and inspired story-sharing and education on maternal mental health.

WIN: SB161 Nurse Home Visiting Pay-for-Success Program (Sen. Escamilla)

  • This legislation will fully fund the Nurse Family Partnership by putting it forward as a Pay-for-Success Program.

Juvenile Justice

WIN: HR1 House Resolution Urging Restorative Justice in Utah’s Education System – (Rep. Sandra Hollins)

  • Resolution to encourage the use of restorative justice practices in Utah schools

NOT A WIN BUT NOT A LOSS: HB132  Juvenile Justice Modifications (Rep. Snow)

  • Updates to last year’s big juvenile justice reform effort - we fought hard with our allies (ACLU, Libertas Institute, YWCA, Racially Just Utah) to keep the changes to a minimum. This bill gives school a limited amount of time to update their programs to comply with HB239 from 2017.

WIN: SB198 – Public School Disciplinary Action Amendments (Sen. Anderegg)

  • This legislation requires the Board of Education to produce an annual report looking at law enforcement and disciplinary action in schools. This data will be helpful as we work to reduce racial disparities in school discipline and work to build a system that produces better outcomes for all kids.

Tax and Budget

NOT QUITE A WIN BUT OH SO CLOSE: HB57 Utah Intergenerational Poverty Work and Self-sufficiency Tax Credit (Rep. Westwood/Sen. Vickers)

  • This bill would have created a $6 million Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for 25,000 working families identified as being in the Intergenerational Poverty (IGP) cohort by the state Department of Workforce Services. These families, which pay tens of millions of dollars in state and local taxes every year, would have been able to keep more of what they earn with a tax credit averaging $240 (and up to $600 maximum). This legislation received unanimous support in both House and Senate committees, passed the House, and received a 22-4 vote on 2nd reading in the Senate. But on the final day of the session, leadership decided to leave it out of the final tax package.


  • The most notable fiscal outcome of the 2018 Legislative Session was a deal between legislative leadership and education funding advocates. The compromise deal included two big choices:
    • Investing up to about $350 million in new education funding dollars – which should move Utah up one position in the national rankings for per-pupil K-12 funding, from 50th place to 49th if it is fully implemented.
    • Shifting who pays these new dollars in a way that unfortunately more negatively impacts poor and middle class families. The Our Schools Now initiative proposal that was set aside in favor of this compromise would have raised over $700 million mostly from an income tax increase paid by the top 20% of Utahn (those who earn over $115,000). The compromise shifted these funds to come from more regressive gas and property tax increases.

LOSS: HB 148: House Bill 148 Tax Revisions- Sales Tax on Food (Rep. Quinn)

  • Sought to eliminate the state sales tax on grocery food items (currently 1.75%) and make up for the $88 million in lost revenue by slightly increasing the general state sales tax rate from 4.7 to 4.92%. One underappreciated benefit of this tax change would have been to shift 20% of the $88 million, or $17.6 million, off of state residents and onto tourists and out-of-state residents who purchase Utah exports.  The bill passed the House but was killed by the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.

WIN: Two Significant Intergenerational Poverty (IGP) bills

  • HB 326 Intergenerational Poverty Initiative (Rep. Redd) establishes a one-time $1 million grant program for local IGP initiatives.
  • SB 162 Intergenerational Poverty Matching – Education Savings Plan (Sen. Vickers) establishes a $100,000 matching grant program for IGP families that invest in a Utah Educational Savings Plan for their children's post-secondary education. 

VUC leg summ p1 graphicVUC leg summ p2 graphic

Published in News & Blog

New Economic Benchmarking Report Finds Utah Ahead of Arizona in Most Key Metrics of Economic Opportunity and Standard of Living

Salt Lake City, May 6, 2021 - Voices for Utah Children released today the fourth in its series of pdfeconomic benchmarking reports that evaluate how the Utah economy is experienced by median- and lower-income families by benchmarking Utah against another state.  This year's report, authored by Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein with support from interns from the University of Utah Department of Economics, compares Utah to its southern neighbor, Arizona.  Utah and Arizona have a nearly identical proportion of working age adults (18 to 64 years), increasingly diverse populations, and ready access to outdoor recreational opportunities here in the American Southwest.  The findings in this year's report shed light on some of Utah's greatest strengths as well as where we can continue to improve. 

Voices for Utah Children's State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, "The main takeaways from this report and the others in the series are that Utah's economic successes put us in a position to make the new upfront investments we need to make now -- in education, public health, poverty prevention, and closing majority-minority gaps -- so that we can achieve our true potential and follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Minnesota that have become high-wage states and achieved a higher standard of living, and do it in such a way that all our children can have a better future."  

The report release presentation took place online and can be viewed at . The presenters included both Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein as well as a special guest, David Lujan, Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, to share the Arizona perspective on the report. 


Utah's Top Economic Advantages: Hard Work & Strong Families Allow Utah to Enjoy High Household Incomes and Low Poverty 

Utah enjoys a higher real median household income than Arizona, ranking #11 nationally, although there are significant gaps between the median wage of different racial and ethnic groups.  Utah's higher incomes are due largely to our high labor force participation rates and our preponderance of two-worker (often two-parent) households.  

med house incomea

 LFPR sex

Ut Mn hrly wage plus

Utah Has Lower Poverty Rates Overall But Still Suffers from Large Racial/Ethnic Gaps 

pov rates

child poverty rates

adult pov race

child pov race

single parent families

single fam race
Educational Attainment: Utah Ahead of Arizona But Falling Behind the Nation

The charts below from our latest benchmarking report compare Utah, Arizona and the nation as a whole on educational attainment. Historically Utah was well ahead of the nation, but more recently evidence has mounted that the younger generation of Utahns is not keeping up with the nation's gains at the level of higher education.  Moreover, there are stark racial/ethnic gaps in both states and the nation as a whole. 

Ut Mn educ attainment 

Utah's high school graduation rates are at or below national averages for most racial/ethnic categories, including our two largest groups, Whites and Latinos. 

HS grad rates

We're also very concerned that Utah's gap between high school graduation rates for Whites and Latinos is larger than nationally. 

HS grad rate gaps

  The chart below illustrates the way that Utah's younger generation of adults has fallen behind the higher education attainment of the Millennial generation nationally.

higher ed race ethn grp

higher ed race ethn grpa

Can Utah Learn Any Lessons from Arizona's Strengths?

Besides Arizona's #11 rank for equal gender wage ratio (while Utah ranks #49), Arizona has more of its children in full-day kindergarten, has a lower 10th percentile hourly wage, and higher productivity.  Arizona's higher 10th percentile hourly wage is likely due to their higher minimum wage, although they do have more people earning poverty level wages overall.  Meanwhile, Utah has fewer people earning poverty level wages overall, but those at the 10th percentile for hourly wages earn less than their Arizonian counterparts. 

min wage

pov level wagesa

gender wage gap



Summary of Key Findings

 Ut Mn big chart 1 econ oppty


Ut Mn big chart 2 std of liv 

The full 56-page report is pdfavailable here as a pdf download.  

Policy Implications

Racial/Ethnic Gaps

Racial and ethnic gaps remain a major challenge in the nation overall, and Utah and Arizona are no exception. Disparities in Utah between minority racial & ethnic groups compared to their White non-Hispanic peers are evident in high school graduation rates, wages, gender pay gaps, poverty rates, and uninsured rates. Addressing these gaps through an upfront investment in education would likely increase educational attainment, wages, and standard of living overall and would therefore contribute to reducing racial and ethnic gaps in the future.   

The Link Between Education and Income

The link between education and income is well-established. States with higher education levels generally have higher levels of worker productivity, wages, and incomes. In the current comparison with Arizona, Utah’s higher education levels make for higher levels of wages and income. The lesson for Arizona would be raise education levels to raise the state’s standard of living. The same applies to Utah, where the Legislature has struggled to turn seemingly large dollar increases in education funding every year into increases in real per-pupil investment sufficient to get Utah out of last place in the national ranking.

The latest data from the Census Bureau reports that Utah remains in last place in per-pupil education investment at $7,628, with Arizona only slightly better at $8,239 and 47th in the nation (for FY 2018). While Utah has done well for its meager investment levels, achieving impressive gains in educational performance as measured by NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores (see Figure 31, page 25), will we be able to continue to advance while remaining in last place?  

While Utah “does more with less” in education compared to other states, we have growing challenges to address. Utah has racial/ethnic education gaps which are larger than the national average, for example for Hispanic and American Indian high school graduation rates (see Figure 33, page 26). Utah’s pupil-to-teacher ratio is 22.9, ranking 48th while the national average is 16 (see Figure 22, page 21). Moreover, Utah teacher pay has also fallen over the past 50 years by 1.8% while nationally teacher salaries have increased 6.7% (see figure 24, page 22). 

At the college level, Utah historically was always ahead of the national average for attainment of bachelor’s degrees and above. But Census data show Utah’s lead shrinking relative to the nation with each successive generation, to the point now that Utah millennials (ages 25-34) are behind their peers nationally, despite relatively generous state support and low tuition levels.

Can Utah Become a High-Wage State?

For many years, economists have debated whether Utah is a low-wage state, as the Utah Foundation discussed in their 2008 report, “Is Utah Really a Low-Wage State?”[1] That report argued that our seemingly low wages were explained by our younger demographic profile and lower cost of living. While this report does not examine how wages intersect with age demographics, Utah ranks 29th in median hourly wages, compared to 41st in 2004 (see chart below).  When adjusted for our low cost of living, Utah’s median hourly wage in 2019 was $19.17, just 16 cents lower than the national level. These data seem to demonstrate that Utah has gone from being a low-wage state a generation ago to middle-wage status today, a considerable accomplishment.

UT rank in median wages

One question Utah leaders may now wish to consider is, is that good enough? Should we declare, “Mission Accomplished”? Or is Utah in a position, like Colorado and Minnesota before us, to become, over time, a high-wage state and set our sights on taking the necessary steps today to achieve that goal over the years and decades to come? 

Similarly, how do we include those earning the lowest wages in the gains Utah has made and will potentially make in the future?  Utah is not even a half percentage point lower than the national share of workers earning poverty level wages (see Figure 55, page 38) and lags behind the nation’s 10th percentile wage, ranking 30th (see Figure 54, page 37).  Even as the state with the lowest income inequality ranking in the nation (see Figure 45, page 31), Utah suffers from a tremendous gap between low-income workers and the rest of the income scale.

The main lesson that emerges from the Working Families Benchmarking Project reports comparing Utah to Colorado, Minnesota, Idaho and now Arizona is the following: Higher levels of educational attainment translate into higher hourly wages, higher family incomes, and an overall higher standard of living. The challenge for policymakers is to determine the right combination of public investments in education, infrastructure, public health, and other critical needs that will enable Utah to continue our progress and achieve not just steady growth in the quantity of jobs, but also a rising standard of living that includes moderate- and lower-income working families from all of Utah’s increasingly diverse communities.




Facebook Live Event discussing the report overall joined by David Lujan, Director of Arizona Center for Economic Progress at Children's Action Alliance:

Facebook Live Event focusing on women in higher education, the gender pay gap, and income equality with panelists: Dr. Susan Madsen, Founder and Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project; Marshall Steinbaum Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Utah's department of Economics; and Gabriella Archuleta JPP MPP, Policy Analyst with YWCA Utah.

Facebook Live Event focusing on Utah's economic success and economic development strategy with panelists: Howard Stephenson MPA, former Utah Senator; Phil Dean MS MPA, public finance senior research fellow at the Gardner Institute; and Thomas Maloney PhD., Professor, Department of Economics, University of Utah. 

Facebook Live Event focusing on education in Utah from pre-school to higher education, focusing on educational attainment & closing racial and ethnic gaps with panelists: Carrie Mayne, Chief Economist for Utah System of Higher Education; Andrea Rorrer PhD., Director of the University of Utah's Education Policy Center; and  Anna Thomas MPA, Senior Policy Analyst at Voices for Utah Children.

Published in News & Blog