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UTAHNS MAY NOT GET TO VOTE ON EARMARKING TAXES

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Should Utah voters have an opportunity to decide if all of the state's income tax revenues should continue to be "earmarked" specifically for public education?

The answers out of the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee last week were: Yes. No. Maybe so, but probably not.After discussing the issue for about an hour, the committee voted not to propose a voter referendum in the 1996 election. Such a proposal would have to have the approval of two-thirds of each house of the Legislature before it went on the ballot.

The discussion evolved out of a report by the office of the legislative fiscal analyst that indicates income tax revenues may, sometime in the near future, outstrip the needs of public education.

Representatives of public education attending Tuesday's meeting, however, argued that education has been so chronically underfunded in Utah that additional revenues could easily be absorbed without bloating the system.

"By any comparison, Utah has the lowest expenditures in the nation," said Darrell White, spokesman for the Utah School Boards Association and Utah School Superintendents Association. He suggested that if the earmark on income tax is altered, it should be "done in the light of a constitutional amendment. Let the people have a voice."

State Superintendent Scott W. Bean was involved in a meeting of the State School Board in Logan Tuesday and could not attend the committee meeting. The State Office of Education submitted a response to the report strongly condemning the notion of removing the earmark on education funds.

The income tax revenue is earmarked for public education based on a constitutional requirement that the Legislature create a dedicated fund. For years, however, Utah's education budgets have been supplemented out of general-fund revenues because the income tax has not covered the costs of K-12 education.

The analysts' report said that Uniform School Fund revenues (the dedicated funds) are expected to grow between $300 million and $400 million between 1996 and 2000. The projections are based on demographic and economic trends, the report says. That amount would be greater than anticipated increases in public education needs, based on current spending, the analysts said.