If you’re a fan of election year promises that won’t be kept, then Constitutional Amendment G is for you.
That probably sounds quite cynical, but unfortunately it does not take an overabundance of political skepticism — or basic math — to see that Amendment G just doesn’t add up.
Amendment G is the very last of a series of Utah constitutional amendments at the end of this year’s ballot. It is an innocuously worded question that at first glance seems very hard to oppose. But in truth, it is the culmination of a years-long effort to end the Utah Constitution’s dedication of all income tax revenue to education. Legislators have long chafed at the restriction, passed by voters in 1946. Last year, they sought to solve the “problem” by passing a tax restructuring law to shift over $500 million of revenue from the income tax to the sales tax. When voters revolted, they repealed it a month later. Now they are aiming to win our approval for Constitutional Amendment G to allow essentially the same thing — transfer up to $600 million of income tax revenue away from education and into services currently funded by the sales tax.
But setting aside the less-than-transparent wording, there is a much larger problem with Amendment G: It does nothing to address the real problem, which is that we need to restore some revenues to meet the needs of our children.
The promise being made by proponents is that, if we vote for Amendment G, we will see greater investment in education — AND greater investment in social services for children and Utahns with disabilities.
But where will the new revenues come from to keep these promises? Does Amendment G undo any of the billions in tax breaks that legislators have passed in recent years? Those tax cuts have reduced our overall tax level to the lowest point in 50 years and left us with chronic revenue shortages. Does Amendment G undo a single tax cut or identify any new source of revenue to address the shortfalls? It does not. Zero new revenue divided by two election year funding promises still equals zero. It’s just basic math.
Voices for Utah Children opposes Constitutional Amendment G because the proposal not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is actually likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed.
Once legislators get the increased flexibility they have long sought, they will be able to perfect their favorite budget game of robbing Peter to pay Paul one year, and the opposite the next. Another decade will pass before we realize that no one has come out ahead in this game — not education, not children, not Utahns with disabilities. (That’s why Utah’s leading disabilities advocates are either neutral or opposed to Amendment G.)
The biggest promise made by proponents is that Amendment G will mean that Utah will always fund inflation and student growth in the education budget, even in a recession. That’s what didn’t happen following the last recession — but actually for an entirely reasonable reason — because legislators faced the Sophie’s choice between cutting life-saving health and social services or underfunding education for a few years. Why would that choice be any different in future recessions? Keep in mind, this promise is not written into Constitutional Amendment G. Rather, it is in a separate bill — just an ordinary bill — that can be repealed or changed by a future Legislature at any time.
Proponents may reply that we’ve misunderstood that bill — HB 357 — which establishes a “Public Education Economic Stabilization Restricted Account” to save money during good times for the next recession. Again, basic math: If money that was going to go to the schools during good times is instead saved for recession years, how does that make schools better off over the course of the full economic cycle if the overall total they receive is the same? One plus one still does not equal three. (And if this is a budgeting change that makes sense, it does not require a constitutional amendment to implement.)
Voters should send a message that we can very well see that the math does not add up. Vote No on Amendment G.