A Senate resolution that would ask Utahns whether to amend the Utah Constitution to eliminate the decades-old earmark on income tax revenue for education passed the Utah Senate Tuesday night.
SJR10, sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was approved on a vote of 22-6, sending it to the Utah House of Representatives for further consideration.
“I feel like it’s a good opportunity to give the voters an opportunity to see into our budget process and learn a little bit more about how we do things and hopefully they can support some changes,” McCay said prior to the vote.
Legislative leaders say the structural imbalance in state tax revenues ties their hands in budgeting decisions in a time that income tax revenues are outstripping sales tax revenue.
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who joined other Senate Democrats in voting against the resolution, questioned why the language of the resolution reflected no indication of negotiated changes resulting from ongoing talks with the “education community.”
“I really feel that this is a really big change to our constitution. I know that you have been working with the education community to come up with a compromise and it’s almost a month later,” Riebe said.
“So it just leaves me a little curious why I would pass this through if you haven’t changed a word from the beginning,” she said.
Income tax has been reserved for funding public education since the mid-1940s, although the constitution has been twice amended over the years to also allow using income tax revenue to support public colleges and universities and, more recently, for programs for children and people with disabilities.
Senate Majority Whip Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, reiterated that “we are continuing to have discussions with the education community on this bill, but this is the last night we can run Senate bills. And so we need to move this bill out and on to the house and we will continue to negotiate with not only House members but the education community.”
Utah Education Association President Renée Pinkney said she had expected that the resolution would move to the Senate Tuesday as a matter of legislative process.
“We are completely opposed to SJR10 in its written form as it is now,” she said. UEA and other education stakeholders have been at the negotiation table since mid-October.
Legislative leaders have talked about some new language, but association leaders have not yet seen it, Pinkney said, and they will not be able to arrive at a position on the proposal until UEA’s House of Delegates meets in April.
“So, we continue to oppose SJR10. Our goal has always been that we need to ensure funding in Utah is prioritized, that it’s protected, and that it’s adequate through constitutional language and guarantees. Just removing the constitutional mandate just frees up income tax, and puts it in with the General Fund and we are definitely opposed to that,” she said.
The resolution is tied to a kitchen sink tax revision bill, HB54. As currently drafted, the Utah Legislature would remove the state sales tax on food and implement other tax reform measures if SJR10 passes both legislative houses by a two-thirds margin and it is approved by a majority of Utah voters.
Earlier, a proposal to eliminate the state food tax was addressed in a stand-alone bill, HB101, but that language has been folded into HB54.
The legislative session ends at midnight Friday, so there remains some time to substitute language for consideration. Another option would be to continue to develop tax reform proposals during the Legislature’s interim session since the soonest a constitutional amendment could be put to a statewide vote would be the November 2024 general election.