Voters have more than just candidates to select this cycle.
Seven proposed amendments to the Utah Constitution are also on the ballot, most notably, perhaps, Amendment G, which would allow use of income tax revenue to help kids and people with disabilities. As is, income tax funding is earmarked per a constitutional provision specifically for education.
Income taxes currently total around $5 billion a year, all now used to support public education and higher education, according to a voter information pamphlet prepared by the Utah Elections Office, part of the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office. If Amendment G is approved, the share of income tax funding to be channeled instead to programs for kids or the disabled would be up to the Utah legislature, according to the pamphlet.
“This expansion acknowledges the increasing importance of physical and mental health for academic success. This amendment gives Utah more flexibility to support our children’s learning outcomes,” backers of Amendment G wrote in the pamphlet.
However, critics argue the change, if approved, would represent a threat to funding both for schools and the disabled. “Amendment G will pit our public education system, including charter schools, against all other programs for children and people with disabilities. This is a lose-lose scenario for all affected,” reads the argument prepared by critics of the proposed change.
Amendment G has perhaps garnered the most attention and debate of the seven proposed constitutional changes.
“Passage of this amendment would trigger implementation of a legislative bill which obligates legislators to provide a safety net, protecting education funding,” wrote Bob Hunter, head of Weber State University‘s Olene Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service. “However, the League of Women Voters of Utah and others, desiring to maintain a progression of education funding, have expressed concern that future legislatures may not feel obligated to hold to current legislative action.”
Amendment G proponents maintain that public pressure will keep them from backtracking on their support of the educational system “and that lawmakers simply need to have flexibility in juggling the state’s many funding needs,” Hunter said.
Aside from the voter pamphlet, the Utah Foundation, a nonprofit research group, has prepared a synopsis of the proposed amendments, available at utahfoundation.org/uploads/rr779.pdf. Here’s a look at the other proposed constitutional amendments:
Amendment A: Hunter called it a no-brainer. “It simply changes language in the constitution from ‘men’ to the gender-neutral ‘persons,’” he said.
The Utah Foundation report said six of 237 sections in the Utah Constitution reference lawmakers with male pronouns. “This amendment changes these and several other terms: Husband or wife replaced with spouse, he replaced with (legislative) member and men replaced with persons,” it reads.
Amendment B: The change would clarify language related to the minimum age state lawmakers must be to hold office. “It clarifies that a candidate must be of eligible age at the time of election or appointment, not at the time of assuming office,” Hunter said.
Amendment C: As is, the Utah Constitution bans slavery and “involuntary servitude” except as punishment for a crime. The change would remove those exceptions.
“The Utah Department of Corrections has stated that this amendment will not change any practices since they are not engaging in them now. Instead, it is simply codifying current practices, beliefs and morals around the issue,” reads the Utah Foundation synopsis.
Amendment D: The change relates to water rights.
If approved, Hunter said, it would allow cities “to share excess water outside their boundaries and makes more flexible their ability to do so. As population grows, this measure makes it easier to balance supply and demand,” he said.
Some cities are already supplying water outside their jurisdictions, according to the Utah Foundation. Rejecting the change, it went on, “would leave the legality of the existing practice in question.”
Amendment E: The change would make hunting and fishing constitutional rights.
“Special interests,” according to the argument in favor of the change in the Utah Elections Office voter guide, “are actively working to take away these opportunities and, in a growing number of states, they have been successful.”
The ability to hunt and fish “is a sign of our liberty and responsibility,” the pro-argument goes on, and approval of the amendment would assure the right to engage in the activities.
Foes of the amendment say such change is not needed.
“Hunting and fishing are important in Utah and already enjoy strong protections here. However, they are not so threatened or vital they must be enshrined in our state’s most sacred document,” reads the argument against Amendment E. “Most states have not degraded their constitutions by adding these unnecessary protections. Neither should we.”
Amendment F: The change relates to when Utah’s 45-day legislative sessions begin each year, now set in the Constitution as the fourth Monday in January each year. It would also exclude state holidays that aren’t federal holidays from counting toward the 45-day legislative session limit.
The only change in the amendment “is removing the specific January start date from the Constitution and instead specifying the January start date in statute,” proponents of the change argue in the Utah Elections Office guide. “The legislature would be enabled to set the start date by passing a bill. This will allow for more adaptability in determining a start date.”