Tax and Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain

   
 K-12: Paraeducators   $312 million  

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

 

K-12: Increase school counselors

 

$130 million

 

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

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

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

Current and optimal ratios are: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

K-12: 

Homeless Students

 $105.8 million  

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

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

Source: Utah Housing Coalition

 

Utah Housing Coalition Advocacy & Outreach Coordinator Francisca Blanc –  

 Full Day Kindergarten  

$52.5 million

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

$1 billion

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

$3.6 million

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

Health Insurance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural Utah Economic Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gabriella Archuleta, Director of Public Policy, YWCA Utah    

and

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

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

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

Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake - Jean Hill -

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

$30 million/

year for 10 years
 

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

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

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

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

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

$35 million

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

$100 million

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

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

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

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

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

 TOTAL

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

  3.4b tax cut USTC

3.4b tax cut text

 Invest press conf 11 8 21

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

Printable version of this document is here

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

ONE PAGERS ABOUT THE VARIOUS UNMET NEEDS: 

Published in News & Blog

Beginning this Summer 2021, Utah Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be receiving approximately $615 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan. Now is the time to use this funding to help our youngest learners that will need the additional instruction and interventions now more than ever.

In this explainer, Voice's staff Anna Thomas and Laneta Fitisemanu will cover the ESSER funding Utah is set to receive as well as ways that we can use the funds and support full day kindergarten and preschool expansion. 

We have exactly two school years (2021-22, 2022-23) and three summers (2021, 2022, 2023) to spend these funds. It is critical that we think big picture about where we invest this money when it comes to education.

We have strong data and evidence supporting that full day kindergarten and preschool programs help improve learning gaps for children that participate particularly for our most vulnerable and underrepresented student groups. This is why using ESSER funds to help expand these much wanted and needed programs is critical and one of the most important investments we can make that will have a huge impact for years to come.

Let's invest in Utah kids by using this relief funding to expand early education programs and further support the value and importance of giving more of Utah children and families access to full day kindergarten and preschool programs! 

Resources and References

Published in News & Blog
February 24, 2021

The High Price of Lower Taxes

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

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

UTAH'S URGENT UNMET NEEDS

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

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

Early Care and Education

Amount

Unmet Need

$500-600 Million/Year

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

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

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

 

Health

Amount

Unmet Need

$59 Million/Year

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

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

 

Human Services

Area 

Unmet Need

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

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

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

Disability Services

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

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

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

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

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

 

Infrastructure, Environment, and Housing

 Area

Unmet Need

Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHY TAX CUTS ARE A BIG DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Published in News & Blog
February 22, 2021

Tax Cut Survey Results

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January 31, 2021

Tax Cut Survey

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