Tax and Budget

Our organization recognizes the importance of standing against policies that jeopardize the well-being of Utah’s children. We believe that regular community members have the right and responsibility to influence decisions about policies that affect their lives. 

The ability of everyday Utahns to influence public policy directly, through ballot initiatives, should be part of our state’s democratic process. However, the state legislature for years has passed laws that make it more difficult for members of the public to pose questions to their fellow voters statewide, by conducting ballot initiatives.  

This year, the campaign to suppress public ballot initiatives takes the form of two complementary bills, both sponsored by Rep. Jason Kyle (R-Huntsville). HJR14, “Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution - Statewide Initiatives,” would amend our state constitution so that a simple majority of Utah voters can no longer approve new or expanded funding streams for state programs. The bill increases the threshold for a winning ballot initiative from 50% to 60%, when the ballot initiative seeks to increase revenue for state programs through a new tax or by expanding an existing tax. HB284, “Initiative Amendments,”  would require a ballot initiative that increases taxes to specify where the money will come from to pay for the tax increase. 

Ballot Initiatives in Utah Are Already Nearly Impossible

Utah is already one of the most difficult states in which to conduct a public ballot initiative. Whether the ballot initiative reflects the desires of Utahns to revert to our old state flag, or to expand Medicaid coverage to more people in need, organizers face high barriers before the voting public can weigh in. 

For example. Utah law currently requires ballot initiative organizers to collect a total of 134,298 signatures, and they must meet specific signature thresholds in at least 26 out of 29 Senate districts. (between about 3,000 and 5,600 handwritten signatures per district, depending on the Senate district). 

Even when organizers manage to clear all the hurdles to get a public ballot initiative before Utah voters, the Legislature has shown that it feels no obligation to respect voters’ desires. Ballot initiatives to legalize medical cannabis, expand Medicaid coverage to more Utahsn, and to create an independent redistricting commission (to push back on legislative gerrymandering)  all successfully passed in 2018. The legislature walked back all of these efforts, either completely undoing, or mangling the implementation of, each successful initiative.  

Why Voices Opposes HJR14 & HB284

Decisions made at the state level regarding investments in education, healthcare, childcare, and other essential services have profound consequences for future generations. By adding yet more hurdles for members of the public seeking to impact state laws, HJR14 and HB284 risk undermining the public’s constitutional right to directly petition their government. 

If HJR14 is approved, the proposed amendment will appear on voter ballots this November. Utah voters will be able to decide whether to limit their own access to this incredibly important tool for democratic influence over public policies that affect us all. 

Voices for Utah Children opposes the passage of HJR14 and HB284, recognizing the importance of preserving Utahns’ right to safeguard the interests of its children through ballot initiatives. This is particularly important now, as the legislature increasingly ignores public comment, public outcry and public sentiment when introducing and passing their bills. 

Your voice matters! You can participate in the democratic process right now by weighing in on these bills, either by providing a public comment during the committee hearings or by writing your legislator to express your objections.

VIEW OUR LEGISLATIVE TRACKER TO LEARN MORE!

 

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Representative Susan Pulsipher’s HB 153: Child Care Revisions narrowly passed the Utah State Legislature on February 28, 2024, and was signed by the Governor on March 14, 2024.

Initially proposed as a child tax credit expansion initiative, HB 153 has evolved into a more complex bill with significant implications. This FAQ aims to address questions about the passed bill and explain its key components.

 What does HB 153 do?

There are three main components to this bill:

  1. Child Tax Credit Expansion: HB 153 expands Utah’s child tax credit to include 4-year-olds. Currently, children aged 1-3 are eligible if their family meets certain income criteria and has a tax liability. This expansion will make the credit available to 0.4% more families, benefiting 1.1% more children, with an average annual tax savings of $456 per eligible family.
  2. Unlicensed Provider Capacity Expansion: HB 153 increases the cap on the number of unrelated children an unlicensed provider can care for from 6 to 8 (current law remains at 10 children cap if also caring for related children). With this change, Utah now ranks as the second-worst state nationally in unregulated care capacity, trailing only South Dakota.
  3. New Unlicensed Provider Oversight: In response to concerns from the child care community, HB 153 introduces new requirements for unlicensed providers. They must now undergo criminal background checks through the Office of Child Care Licensing. Additionally, a new stipulation limits the number of children under 3 years old being cared for to 2. Previously, unlicensed providers operated without formal oversight or state requirements.

When will this go into effect?

Each component of the bill will go into effect at a different time:

  1. Child Tax Credit Expansion: Initially introduced under HB 170 in 2023, the Child Tax Credit, applicable to children aged 1-3, cannot be claimed until families file their 2024 taxes, in 2025. For families with eligible 4-year-olds, the credit won't be claimable until they file their 2025 taxes, in 2026.
  2. Unlicensed Provider Capacity Expansion: Starting May 1, 2024, unlicensed providers will be permitted to care for up to 8 unrelated children.
  3. New Unlicensed Provider Oversight: Background check requirements and restrictions on the number of children under the age of 3 in care will take effect on July 1, 2024.

How will this new oversight of unlicensed providers function under HB 153?

The Office of Child Care Licensing (OCCL) within the Department of Health and Human Services already oversees residential child care licenses, which are required for providers caring for 9 or more children. OCCL also oversees the Residential Certificate program which is currently required for providers caring for 7-8 children. HB 153 now makes Residential Certification optional. 

Additionally, HB 153 essentially adds a new layer of regulated care, mandating background checks for providers caring for under 8 children who do not hold a license or certificate. Current law does not require background checks for anyone caring for under 6 children. HB 153 mandates the same level of background checks as licensed child care providers, covering all staff, volunteers, and individuals older than 12 residing in the residence.

The process and enforcement mechanisms are still unclear. The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish rules for criminal background check submission. Similar requirements exist in Idaho, but enforcement is limited to instances where an unlicensed program is reported to the state.

Stay tuned for further guidance from the Office of Child Care Licensing regarding this process.

Will this increase access to child care? Will it decrease the cost of child care?

The answer is uncertain. While the state has previously expanded unlicensed child care capacity, the lack of tracking of unlicensed child care makes it impossible to gauge effectiveness.

Regulations are often blamed for high child care costs and limited availability, but studies show no direct correlation between state regulations and child care supply levels. Utah's Office of Child Care Licensing continuously strives to make licensing as easy to obtain as possible without compromising quality and safety standards.

There's no evidence to suggest this change will alleviate the child care crisis. In fact, experts predict it may decrease available child care by incentivizing programs to downsize and forego licenses.

Is this licensing change safe?

Just as there are undoubtedly reputable unlicensed providers, incidents can occur in licensed facilities as well. However, licensed providers benefit from established systems for monitoring and support, facilitating continuous improvement. The challenge with unlicensed providers lies in the lack of oversight—without clear regulations, identifying potential risks becomes difficult. 

Unfortunately, the impact of unlicensed child care expansion often goes unrecognized until horrible things happen and it's too late. Without state oversight, it’s important for parents to learn about the differences between licensed and unlicensed child care. Below is a comparison chart outlining key distinctions, but we encourage parents to leverage OCCL's resources for informed decision-making.

  Residential Certificate Child Care Provider  Unlicensed Child Care Provider Under HB 153
Background checks required for all child care staff, volunteers, and household members 12+  X X
(if enforced) 
Inspections of facility for safety  X  
2.5 hours of preservice training*  X  
10 hours of annual training*   X  
Always requires at least one caregiver present to hold current pediatric first aid and CPR certification  X  
Public access to rule violations available to parents  X  
Verified local business license, health department clearance, and fire clearance (when required by city)  X  
Must carry liability insurance or disclose lack thereof in writing to parents X  
Requires quality equipment, materials, and play areas that are safe, clean, adequate in size  X  
Verified safe caregiver-to-child ratios X  
Requires that no provider use corporal punishment or emotional abuse to discipline a child X  
Requires staff to mandatorily report any instance of suspected child abuse or neglect X  

 

* Training covers CPR, First Aid, home safety, emergency prevention, shaken baby syndrome prevention, sudden infant death syndrome prevention, care for children with disabilities, infectious disease control, child development, homelessness detection, and child abuse awareness.

This FAQ will be regularly updated with new questions and any developments from the Office of Child Care Licensing. If you have additional questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to Jenna at .

Published in News & Blog

Governor Cox unveiled his budget last week, and the general direction of the budget is positive. Voices for Utah Children is interested in some specific components of the budget that directly impact Utah children and their families:

Public Education

$854 million increase, including a 5% jump in per-pupil funding and $55 million for rural schools

This is a much-needed investment in public education. We support the focus on rural schools and are anxious to see the details as they emerge. Public education consistently polls as a top priority for Utahns of all political parties and backgrounds.

Support for Utah Families

 $4.7 million to expand Utah’s child tax credit and $5 million for accessible child care

We appreciate the fact that the Governor has begun to address the urgent needs of Utah families with young children. However, both allocations fall far short of the amount required to truly support and elevate these young families’ current needs. A truly impactful child tax credit would require an investment of at least $130 million, and the benefits in reducing child poverty in Utah would be substantial. Our recent report on child care in Utah clearly illustrates the need for bold action to support families in the workforce, who are struggling with the cost and unavailability of child care. The Governor’s $5M project will help very few Utah families and does not address the true need.

Housing

$128 million for homeless shelters and $30 million for deeply affordable housing

We support the Governor in his effort to better support the homeless residents of our state. We encourage a greater focus on expanding support for homeless children specifically. Early care and education opportunities for young children as well as more supportive programs for their parents and caregivers are critical to helping families find stable housing and better future opportunities. Investing in deeply affordable housing will help many Utah families.

Behavioral/Mental Health 

$8 million for behavioral and mental health

This is not enough to address the current mental health needs of Utahns – in particular, those of our children and the folks tasked with raising them. We need more mental health professionals and greater access to services. We know this is a major concern for the Governor and we encourage increased strategic investment in this area.

It is also important to acknowledge and applaud some items the Governor wisely left out of his proposed budget:

No Proposed Tax Cuts 

Utahns want to see more invested in our children while they are young, to prevent greater challenges later in life. It is our children who suffer most, when politicians toss our tax dollars away on polices that mostly benefit the wealthiest 1% of Utah households.

No Proposed Funding for Vouchers

Public funds should not be redirected to private entities. Utah needs an annual audit of the current program, to assess who is benefitting from school vouchers. In other states, the results are not good – vouchers are looking more and more like a tax break for wealthy families.


Bold Investments Needed for Utah's Children

Governor Cox's budget focuses on increasing funding for education, families, and affordable housing.

These are all areas where we believe bold investment is needed. We support the Governor in addressing these issues, but cannot overlook how this budget falls short in the face of the ongoing struggles faced by Utah families with children.  

We encourage our Legislature to use the Governor’s budget as a roadmap and increase the allocations to the amount needed.

Published in News & Blog

Most of us don't enjoy paying taxes. We do it, though, because pooling our money together through taxes makes it possible for us to have roads, schools, libraries and parks, fire fighters and law enforcement, and so many more public goods that none of us could afford on our own. 

Tax policy (the ways we choose to collect taxes) impacts everyone, and often in many different ways. You may have very recently paid sales tax on your groceries, gas tax at the pump, property taxes on your home or through your rent, and of course, income tax on the money you earn.

From state to state, tax policy is unique; no two states collect taxes the same way. Tax policy also changes a lot over time. Different types of taxes affect people differently, depending on whether they have higher or lower incomes. 

Some tax policies and structures promote fairness and equity. Other approaches to taxes contribute to social inequality. When tax policies burden lower-income people more than very wealthy people, who can more easily afford to pay higher taxes, we consider that unfair.  Sometimes those kinds of tax policies are called "regressive." 

States with the most unfair tax structures typically have:

  • have no or little income tax,
  • have no refundable tax credits, and 
  • rely on high sales and excise* taxes.

How Fair is Utah's Tax Structure? 

Analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows that in Utah, low- and middle-income families pay more of their income in taxes than the wealthiest households. 

We judge Utah's tax fairness holistically, by looking at all the taxes that are paid by families at different income levels. This is the "effective tax rate," or the share of overall household income a family spends on income, sales/excise and property taxes in a year. The table below shows the effective tax rate of Utah households, depending on how much income they earn each year. 

In Utah, 20% of families make less than $23,000 per year. These families pay approximately 7.5% of their total income in state and local taxes. By comparison, the top 1% of Utah families - which are earning more than $487,000 per year - pay an effective tax rate of only 6.6%. 

But the Utah families who pay the most in taxes are those in the middle. Middle-income households (making between $40,000 and $104,000 per year) have an effective income tax rate from 8.1% to 8.8% - the highest effective tax rate of all income levels. 

tax fairness graph

Effective Tax Rate 1Towards Fairness: Tax Credits that Actually Work for Working Families

One way to make our state tax structure more fair is through carefully constructed income tax credits. When tax credits cut out families that pay less in income tax - like our non-refundable Earned Income and Child Tax Credits - then the families who are struggling most, benefit the least. Some legislators argue that families who don't pay as much income tax don't "deserve" to fully benefit from tax credits. But those families clearly pay more in overall taxes than any other income group.  

Babies don't pay any taxes - but the households they live in do. Working families with young children deserve a tax system that supports them as they care for and raise the future leaders of our state. Having a fair tax structure in Utah means making sure children, and the households they are living in, have enough money to afford the things they need.

Learn How Better Income Tax Credits Help Families


Glossary

Effective Tax Rate: the share of income a family spends on taxes. This is calculated by dividing the amount families pay in taxes by their annual household income. 

* Excise Tax: a tax directly levied on certain goods by a state, such as fuel, liquor, or cell phone plans. They are paid by the merchant before the goods can be sold and passed to the consumer through higher prices before the sales tax is added.

Nonrefundable Tax Credit: reduces the taxes owed - allows a taxpayer to only receive a reduction of their tax liability until it reaches zero.

Refundable Tax Credit: allows a taxpayer to receive a refund if the credit they receive is greater than their tax liability.

Tax Credit: a dollar-for-dollar amount that a taxpayer claims on their tax return to reduce the income tax they owe. You can use this to reduce your tax bill and potentially increase your refund amount.

Tax Liability: the amount of taxes owed by a taxpayer to the government before taking into account allowable tax credits.

Tax Policy: policies that determine how we to collect taxes. 

Sources

Published in News & Blog

January 26th is Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day!  The EITC is a vital tool in reducing child poverty, and improving the long-term outcomes for children across our state.

Some tax policies - like the EITC - promote fairness and equity. Others make social inequality worse - we call those policies “regressive;” Regressive policies disproportionately hurt lower-income individuals while disproportionately benefiting rich people. That simply isn’t fair.

Utah was ranked 29 out of 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) in a recently released report from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) —-ITEP uses a “tax inequality index” to measure the effects of each state’s tax system on income inequality.  Data from ITEP shows that lower and middle-income households pay a larger portion of their income in taxes overall, when compared to wealthier households. Middle-class families pay the highest effective tax rate (income tax, sales tax, other taxes and fees), while the wealthiest 1% of Utah households pay the least of all (see table below).  

Screenshot 2024 01 24 at 9.13.59 PM

 

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Utah is one of only five states that excludes the poorest working families from benefiting from their state EITC, by making their EITC non-refundable. By contrast, many states have taken steps to ensure that their state EITC includes as many low- and middle-income families as possible. In 2024, Utah legislators will have a chance to help more Utah families, too - by making our state EITC refundable. 

Screenshot 2024 01 11 at 4.02.33 PM

 

Support HB 149: Make Utah's EITC Refundable!

This year, Representative Marsha Judkins (R-Provo) is championing HB149, which would transform Utah’s EITC into a refundable credit. This bold change will help many more families to afford essential necessities for their children's well-being, such as food, clothing and medical care.

On this EITC Awareness Day, let's make some noise! Reach out to your state legislators, remind them why this policy is impactful for families and children, and help us advocate for a more fair and equitable tax system.

To learn more about the Earned Income Tax Credit, see here

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