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Utah Constitution change to ‘stabilize’ school funding appears headed for passage

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps the most consequential of the proposed seven amendments to the Utah Constitution on the 2020 ballot, Amendment G is on its way to passage in early results, with 54% of residents voting for it so far and 46% voting against.

The amendment expands where earmarked state income tax dollars can go, opening revenue that was previously limited to education purposes to be used in programs and services for children and those with disabilities.

Proponents of the amendment see it as an opportunity to stabilize education funding, as its passing would trigger the enactment of HB357, which would provide annual funding for public school enrollment growth and inflation and fund an education stabilization account.

“Early results indicate Utah voters have made the wise decision to grow, stabilize and protect education funding,” Senate Majority Assistant Whip F. Ann Millner said in a statement. “A broad coalition of educators, business leaders and taxpayer advocates all recognize the benefits of guaranteeing funds to cover student growth and adjust for inflation without raising taxes. Amendment G is a significant step forward for Utah students.”

However, critics worry that the vague language of the amendment, which fails to include the word “education,” would dilute income taxes that have gone solely to education for the last seven decades.

“I was very surprised (at) the way it was worded,” said Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, who is opposed to the amendment. “It is very concerning. We are now shifting completely how we fund our public education. I mean, even all the way to K-16, right? Because when we talk about income tax, it actually goes all the way to K-16.”

“I don’t think the public was very clear because of how (the amendment) was framed. And I can see how it was deceiving in a way.”

She said that while HB357 would be enacted along with the amendment, there is no guarantee that future legislatures will continue that funding.

The preliminary voting results for the other six proposed amendments — and what each means — follows.

Amendment A — Changing gender-specific language

The amendment seeking to alter gender-specific language in the Utah Constitution has received 59% of votes to approve so far and 41% against.

Amendment A expands language in certain sections of the state constitution to be more inclusive, including replacing the words husband and wife with “spouse” and changing male pronouns when referring to legislators with “member.”

Certain instances of the word men would also be replaced with “persons.”

Amendment B — Clarifying age eligibility requirements for legislative offices

The second proposed amendment — which clarifies that the 25-year-old age requirement for legislative office is to be enforced at the time of the candidates’ election or appointment, not when running or when taking office — has received 80% of votes to approve after early counts and 20% against.

Amendment C — Removing slavery as punishment for a crime

The proposed amendment that removes language from the Utah Constitution allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishments for a crime has received 81% of votes to approve in early voting numbers and 19% against.

Amendment D — Water supplies

The proposed amendment that allows municipalities to provide water supplies to entities outside their boundaries has received 61% of votes to approve so far and 39% against.

Amendment D also limits when cities can cancel water contracts.

Amendment E — Hunting and fishing rights

The proposed amendment that constitutionally guarantees the right to hunt and fish has, in early voting numbers, received 74% of votes to approve and 26% against.

Amendment E also states that hunting and fishing would become the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Amendment F — Changing the legislative session start date

The proposed amendment that allows the legislature to control the legislative session start date by a majority vote, instead of requiring the legislative sessions begin on the fourth Monday in January, has received 67% of votes to approve in early tallies and 33% against.