Utahns overwhelmingly oppose constitutional change to how education is funded

Utah Capitol 12

Two-thirds of Utah voters don’t want to amend the state Constitution to take away public education earmarks for the personal and corporate income tax revenue, a new poll by UtahPolicy.com/Y2 Analytics shows.

The survey is yet another blow against the GOP Legislature’s move to reform the state tax system, making it more flexible and responsive to how the economy is changing.

A previous survey by the online political newsletter and polling firm found about the same results — two-thirds against such a constitutional change.

Talks continue between leading advocates for public and higher education and Republican legislative leaders on such a change, which would have to pass the Utah Senate and House by two-thirds majorities each and then be approved by voters in the 2020 general election.

The new survey finds:

— 65 percent of Utah voters say the state Constitution should not be amended taking away the current income tax revenue earmark for schools and colleges.

— 35 percent say that it should be amended in some manner if there are “guarantees to protect and enhance funding for higher and public education over time . . . .”

Y2 didn’t give an option of “don’t know,” forcing a ballot-like, up or down decision on respondents.

Among all the demographic groups, only one currently sides with Republican leaders:

— Those who said they are “strongly conservative” politically support the amendment, 53-47 percent.

All other groups are against such a change:

— Women are against such an amendment, 70-30 percent; men against, 62-38 percent.

— Those who said they are “strong Republicans” are against an amendment, 53-47 percent.

— “Not so strong Republicans” are against, 73-27 percent.

— Those who “lean Republican” in their politics are against, 52-48 percent.

— Political independents oppose changing the Constitution, 58-42 percent, while all forms of Democrats are heavily against such a change.

20200106 QAMEND Topline

The worry, of course, is that without the current earmark the Republican-controlled Legislature and a GOP governor — we’ve had both for nearly 40 years — would give less money to education.

This worry comes even though in recent years the Legislature and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert have increased education spending by 30 percent — billions of dollars.

The first step of tax reform was taken in December when after months of study the Legislature (all Democrats and a few Republicans voting “no”) adopt sweeping tax reform, and in the process gives a $155-million income tax cut.

But opposition has sprung up, with several groups coming together in an effort to gather 116,000 voter signatures by Jan. 21 to force a public vote on the new laws next November.

It will be a tough reach for the groups to get those signatures — since it is an all-volunteer effort with no paid signature-gathering operations underway.

If the referendum effort fails, then the December tax reform stands.

And the next step Republicans are pushing would be to amend the Constitution, so that there would be one huge general budget fund, not the current sales-tax-fed General Fund and the income-tax-fed Education Fund.

What tax reform AND the amendment seek is to balance out state spending options, which can’t be accomplished — GOP leaders say — with the sales tax growth not keeping pace with income tax growth.

The idea is not to increase state revenues — thus the overall $155 million income tax cut. And leaders fully recognize that state revenues continue to bring surpluses to the state.

Rather, the General Fund is now subsidizing both higher education AND road funds, and other General Fund programs, like human services and health, will be strangled in the near future if changes aren’t made, leaders argue.20200106 QAMEND Party7

20200106 QAMEND CD

Not only are GOP voters against the amendment, so are “very active” LDS voters, with 62 percent against and only 38 percent in favor. Both the House and Senate are 80 percent or more faithful Mormons, and with their own rank-and-file party and faith members against such an amendment, its chances of passing by the required two-thirds in both bodies is a tough call.

The tax reform bill, while passing the Legislature and signed into law by Herbert in the special session, failed to get a two-thirds vote in both bodies — setting up a real battle for GOP leaders to get such an amendment passed in the 2020 general session, which starts Jan. 27.