Salt Lake City – Utah’s unrestricted General Fund has been undermined due to a nearly 1200% increase in earmarks during the past decade. Over half a billion dollars from the state General Fund are earmarked in Fiscal Year 2015 compared to $42 million in Fiscal Year 2005, a rise from 2% to over 18% of the overall General Fund, according to a new report from Voices for Utah Children: What’s Still Eating Utah’s General Fund: How Unfunded Earmarks Are Undermining the Budget Process and Affecting Utah Families and Children.
Most of these earmarks are dedicated to transportation, diverting resources from other priorities such as education, public safety, aid to the disabled and substance abuse treatment. All of these new earmarks are unfunded earmarks, meaning that none of them was created with a new revenue source to finance it, even though they address newly identified investment needs.
Unfunded earmarks will continue diverting dollars from the General Fund indefinitely, because none of the major General Fund earmarks has a sunset provision. Even if no new earmarks are created in future years, the amount of money diverted from the General Fund will continue to grow under current law.
“Earmarking ties policymakers’ hands so they can’t adapt to the evolving needs of the state’s ever-growing and ever-changing economy and population,” said Matthew Weinstein, State Priorities Partnership Director for Voices for Utah Children. Weinstein recommended that Utah lawmakers revisit earmark decisions and incorporate sunset provisions into all earmark legislation going forward.
Weinstein continued, “The recent diversion of General Fund dollars to transportation earmarks bears considerable resemblance to the 1996 decision to divert Education Fund dollars to higher education. That’s why Utah is last place in the nation in per pupil funding for K-12 education. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has become an unfortunate pattern in Utah’s public finance decision-making.”
For more information, see the complete report: What’s Still Eating Utah’s General Fund: How Unfunded Earmarks Are Undermining the Budget Process and Affecting Utah Families and Children.