The phrasing is important because the word “education,” is nowhere to be found.
For that matter, neither are the words “tax reform.”
And yet, Amendment G is all about both those things.
That was last January. Lawmakers had just passed a reform bill that increased the sales tax on groceries and that added about 12 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline, all in an effort to fix a growing imbalance between sales and income taxes. People were incensed. So many registered voters signed petitions that a repeal vote was certain.
So lawmakers retreated hastily and beat them to it, repealing all they had done not long after the 2020 legislative session had begun.
But reform didn’t go away. It re-emerged in March as a deal to create a new reserve account for education designed as a guarantee against the rising costs of growth and inflation. Social Service programs that help children and the disabled were to be moved from sales tax funds to income tax.
But it all would hinge on voters approving Amendment G, which would end Utah’s 89-year-old guarantee that all income tax collections go solely to education.
I’m guessing you have forgotten about all of this. It’s more than a guess, actually. Soon to be released poll numbers show only a tiny portion of likely voters consider tax reform an important issue any more in this year’s race for governor.
And why should that be surprising? Last March education leaders, including those from the powerful Utah Education Association, literally linked arms with legislative leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert in support of the deal.
In politics, this is called making something a moot point. If a tree falls in the forest and no one opposes it, no one cares.
Except that three former education heavyweights do.
Bob Marquardt, former member of the Board of Regents and former chair of Weber State University Board of Trustees, Dixie Huefner, Emeritus Professor of Special Education at the University of Utah, and Rich Kendell, former commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education, strenuously object.
They met Wednesday with the Deseret News/KSL editorial board. One of their main concerns is transparency.
“My guess is most of the public, most of the public school community, have no idea that they’re going to lose $600 million out of their fund or much, much more,” Kendall said, noting that is how much estimates say will be taken from income tax funds for social programs, although he said the real figure could be much more.
“Whether this is a good idea or not, the way it’s being done is just outrageous,” Marquardt said, calling the absence of the word “education” on the ballot and effort to “gloss over the true impact.”
Huefner added, “You change the constitution, it’s extremely difficult to change it back.”
But the three have no resources to mount any sort of mass-media campaign. Those who do, like the UEA, don’t want to.
This is one tree that is likely to fall without so much as anyone yelling “timber!”
Supporters of the deal will argue it makes up for money lost from income tax receipts and provides necessary hedges against future growth. However, as the few opponents of the deal noted last winter, the difference between today’s constitutional guarantee that income taxes go to schools and a new law setting up a fund is vast. The Legislature may change laws at any time. The constitution can be changed only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a vote of the people.
It’s also worth remembering a debate lawmakers had in 2019. It concerned voters passing Proposition B, which many of them strongly opposed. People voted for it, some of them believed, because the wording on the ballot was misleading. It didn’t state a proposed tax increase prominently enough.
The result was a bill requiring future initiatives to clearly declare how they would be funded. That bill was signed into law. Words, its supporters argued, matter.
As do words that are missing.