POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Utah legislature takes first steps to propose eliminating public education constitutional earmark

Feb 22, 2023, 12:17 PM | Updated: 2:12 pm

Road rage bill Utah...

A new bill focusing on road rage will be proposed in the Utah 2024 legislative session. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, UT — The Utah Legislature is moving forward with its plan to amend the state constitution. The amendment would remove the requirement that income tax revenue fund only public and higher education, children’s social services, and people with disabilities.

This is paired with a bill that, if passed, would then take the state sales tax off food. That bill was approved by a House committee Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, a Senate Committee passed the measure that proposes removing that constitutional earmark. 

 

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve tried to nip at different ways to take the earmark off [and we’ve worked with education groups] to try and find a balance in the ability to change this earmark,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R – Salt Lake City. 

He argued that this “budget constraint” hamstrings them from funding other government needs. Income tax revenue has grown faster that sales tax revenue in Utah. Sales tax, combined with gas tax, fund all other state needs.

“Putting aspirational things in the constitution can make for tough budgeting in the future,” McCay said.

Public education opposition

A representative from the state’s largest teacher’s group, the Utah Education Association said they have been involved in the negotiations with lawmakers to get education stakeholders on board.

“At this point there is no final proposal to consider…our goal is to ensure that education funding is prioritized, protected, and adequate through both statute and constitutional guarantees,” said UAE Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain.

The American Federation of Teachers Utah also spoke in opposition. 

“We just haven’t seen any guarantees on how public ed is going to be held harmless in this,” said AFT President Brad Asay. 

A representative from the Utah School Boards Association said they too have been proposing constitutional language for lawmakers to consider protecting public education funding.

“I don’t see any of that language in that bill,” said Mark Clement who’s also an Alpine School District Board member.

State government funds lots of needs not required

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, pushed back on assertions that Utah lawmakers are trying to cut funding for public education by not requiring it in the constitution.

He argued that there’s no constitutional requirement to fund other state needs like transportation, health and human services, corrections, natural resources, or public safety, and yet they do.

“We represent that public and the public demands it,” he said. “I hope that public ed would recognize that they’re demanding a product that the public demands.”

“This red herring argument that if there’s not a constitutional guarantee there won’t be funding for public education, that’s union speak,” he added.

“We honor the [language that says] every child is entitled to a free and essentially equal public education. That’s not changing with this earmark.”

He argued that if you take away the constitutional earmark for education and “let it compete in the marketplace of ideas” he believes the importance of public education would allow it to succeed. 

Democratic Senate Leader, Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City asked for some “light” to be shed on conversations between McCay and the other lawmakers working on this and the public education groups if some protected language might be coming.

With a week and a half left in the legislative session, this measure now moves to the full Senate for debate, and still needs to be heard by the House.   

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Utah legislature takes first steps to propose eliminating public education constitutional earmark