A coalition of Utah advocacy groups and nonprofits on Monday called for lawmakers not to institute potential tax cuts during next year's general session.
"We all put our heads together, all the folks represented at this event and more, and we said, 'How much are the unmet needs?' And we came up to all the details, and it adds up to $5.2 billion of unmet needs in the state of Utah," said Matthew Weinstein, state priorities partnership director for Voices for Utah Children, during a news conference at the state Capitol steps with numerous other group leaders.
During the 2021 session, legislators implemented $80 million in tax cuts for retired military, families and senior citizens as they used the state's $1.3 billion in one-time revenue. Though the idea of a $250 million across-the-board income tax rate cut for all Utahns was floated, it did not happen.
While state taxes now are at an "all time low" and "we all love" lower taxes, Weinstein said, communities pay an "increasingly high price" for them when it comes to funding programs needed across the state.
Jay Blain, director of policy and research for the Utah Education Association, said the group is grateful for the revenue dedicated to education in the past several years, but unmet needs remain.
"While the revenue cut seems to be a great idea, we also recognize that we have a lot of revenue in our system because of the federal money that has been placed into our system over the last year," Blain said, urging legislators to "pause" and consider if that revenue will continue.
He said leaders may regret a tax cut in the future. The last time the state saw a large tax cut, "we lived to regret it because we went into a big recession," according to Blain.
Dr. Jennifer Brinton, with the Utah Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, emphasized the need for mental health and medical resources for children.
Between three and four children in every classroom on average across the state have a chronic medical condition, Brinton said, but there's only one school nurse for every 2,600 students.
"We can use funds right now to get nurses and social workers in the schools to help children early on when they're having mental crises or medical crises," she said.
Ben Trentelman, Utah Afterschool Network executive director, said Utah has over 99,000 unsupervised students after school, and his program serves 43,000.
The program already needed to increase its programming to meet needs before the pandemic, according to Trentelman, and has since seen a "great increase in this need as students have been struggling academically, socially, and with other things that they need that they just have been missing out on."
The pandemic also increased the need for resources for those suffering from domestic violence, said Gabriella Archuleta, director of public policy at YWCA Utah.
During the 2021 legislative session, the YWCA requested $3.4 million in ongoing funds for domestic violence service but no ongoing state funds were approved, she said.
"We can't do it alone. Utah should invest in ongoing funds that are critical to long-term safety and stability. A woman experiencing domestic violence will incur over $100,00 worth of costs over her lifetime," Archuleta noted.
Alex Cragun, with Utahns Against Hunger, emphasized the need to provide food pantries — which have also seen an increase in demand — with more funding. According to a Utahns Against Hunger survey, about 25% of food pantries said they have a funding gap, with 15% saying they have a funding gap of $10,000 or more.
Out of the 200 food pantries in the state, 56 receive state funding, Cragun said.
Other groups present at the news conference called for more resources for undocumented taxpayers, a free-fare system for Utah Transit Authority, air purifiers for each classroom in Utah, and more investment into affordable housing, including senior housing preservation.
Group leaders asked those who want to help the effort to call their legislators and urge them not to cut taxes next spring.
A breakdown of the needs, according to the groups:
- $1.1 billion to reduce class sizes from 29 to 15.
- $312 million to expand paraeducators to all elementary school classrooms.
- $130 million to increase school counselors.
- $285 million to increase access to school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers.
- $500 million to $600 million to address teacher attrition and shortages.
- $84.4 million to hire more school nurses.
- $105.8 million for housing vouchers for homeless students.
- $52.5 million to make full-day kindergarten available to those who want it.
- $1 billion for a comprehensive system of early childhood care and education.
- $3.6 million for after-school programs.
- $5 million for health insurance for children.
- $5 million to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for new parents up from 60 days to one year.
- $30 million for disability services.
- $300 million for transportation access.
- $154 million for undocumented residents.
- $85 million for domestic and sexual violence resources.
- $415 million for housing affordability projects.
- $55 million for homeless services.
- $30 million per year for 10 years for senior housing.
- $100 million for air quality improvement work.
- $35 million for air quality improvement in schools.
- $60 million to promote public transit.
- $100 million for a state earned income tax credit.
- $130 million to eliminate sales tax on unprepared food.