Top 10 Reasons to End the Earmarks

28 January 2016 Published in Press Release Archive

Coalition of Advocates, Social Service Providers Call on the Legislature to “End the Earmarks”

Salt Lake City, UT–On Thursday, January 28 at 10:45 am at the Capitol, a coalition of social service providers and advocates called on the Utah Legislature to “End the Earmarks” and begin the process of restoring to the General Fund the over $500 million annually of earmarked revenues that are currently being diverted for other purposes, up from less than $50 million just a decade ago.

In recent years, the Utah Legislature has voted to earmark (divert) an ever-growing share of General Fund revenues to meet newly identified needs, primarily in the area of transportation, rather than identifying a new revenue source to finance those needs. The result is that human service areas that are funded by the General Fund have been starved for revenue, with a detrimental impact on the state’s ability to meet its obligations and help those in greatest need.

In November, the Tax Review Commission convened by the Legislature to examine the earmarking phenomenon recommended rolling back about 95% of the earmarks. In their letter to the Legislature, the TRC wrote, “In nearly all cases, the TRC opposes earmarks to the state sales and use tax.” The TRC’s full report is online at http://le.utah.gov/interim/2015/pdf/00005293.pdf. For more background information about the earmarks issue, please visit the website of the Tax Review Commission at http://le.utah.gov/asp/interim/Commit.asp?Year=2015&Com=SPETAX.

At the press conference Matthew Weinstein of Voices for Utah Children commented, “We have tremendous respect for our legislators and the difficult job they face in balancing the state’s ever-evolving needs. Moving away from earmarks will help them do their job better by making the budgeting process more functional and effective.”

The coalition included the following organizations:

  • Catholic Diocese of SLC Peace and Justice Commission
  • Comunidades Unidas/Communities Unite
  • Community Action Partnership of Utah
  • Crossroads Urban Center
  • League of Women Voters of Utah
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – Utah Utah Housing Coalition
  • Utah Rivers Council
  • Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness
  • Utahns Against Hunger
  • Voices for Utah Children

At the press conference on Thursday, the coalition sought to put a human face on the problem of underfunding of vital services due to the earmarks. The coalition released the list below of the “Top Ten Reasons to End the Earmarks.” (Though in the end it was impossible to keep it to just 10 items!)

Top Ten Reasons to End the Earmarks

1) Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not fiscally responsible. We should finance transportation and water infrastructure by allowing their user fees to keep up with inflation and the state’s growing needs, not by diverting the revenues urgently needed for social services, education, higher education, criminal justice, etc. through the earmarks.

2) If not for the earmarks, Utah could have already passed Idaho and gotten out of 50th place in per-pupil K-12 education funding.

3) Utah public university tuition has tripled since 2000 as state support for higher education has dwindled because of the earmarks. How will Utah achieve the goal of “66 by 2020” – 66% of our workforce achieving a post-secondary degree or certification – if we keep raising tuition?

4) In the 2013-14 school year, only 12% of Utah 4-year-olds were able to attend a high-quality public preschool program, compared to the national average of 29%.

5) General Fund shortfalls due to earmarks have meant the underfunding of drug treatment and mental health services, costing taxpayers more in the long run as prison recidivism rates rise because the needed services are not available. Estimates are that Utah meets only 15% of the need for these vital, life-saving services.

6) Affordable housing units fall 46,036 units short of meeting the need for the 60,900 households earning less than $20,280, yet the annual $2.2 million appropriation to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund has not changed in 20 years, despite inflation of 56%. Of the state’s 273,801 renter households (comprising 30% of the state), 59,558 pay the majority of their income to housing costs – a severe housing burden.

7) Utah’s uninsured rate for Hispanic children is worst in the nation – 23% vs less than 10% nationally. If not for the earmarks, the Utah General Fund would have the resources to restore state funds for Medicaid and CHIP outreach and other policies such as 12- month continuous Medicaid eligibility to address this disturbing disparity.

8) Utah’s homeless population is estimated at well over 10,000 people. While Utah has achieved national recognition for our pragmatic and effective approach to chronic homelessness, the chronically homeless represent just 4% of the state’s homeless population. $27 million is currently proposed to address these urgent needs.

9) Poverty remains considerably higher than at this point in past economic cycles, particularly among Utah’s growing Latino minority, threatening to create unprecedented ethnic disparities in our state. (Inequality is Utah is still the lowest in the nation, though it is rising faster than nationally.)

10) Water earmarks contribute to Utah’s status as the #2 most water-wasteful state in the nation.

11) Earmarks tie the hands of legislators and take away their ability to adjust state spending to meet Utah’s ever-evolving needs.

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For 30 years now, Voices for Utah Children has called on our state, federal and local leaders to put children’s needs first. But the work is not done. The children of 30 years ago now have children of their own. Too many of these children are growing up in poverty, without access to healthcare or quality educational opportunities.

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