Tax and Budget

The story of tax policy in the 2022 Legislative session is a tale of two tax cuts:

    • A large, top-heavy cut to the income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.85%. How large? $164 million. How top-heavy? 63% of it goes to the top 20% of taxpayers. all of whom have six-figure incomes. 
    • The creation of a small ($16 million, just one-tenth the size of the income tax rate cut) state-level Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is widely considered to be the nation's most effective anti-poverty program, since it reduces poverty by promoting work and self-sufficiency. Special recognition goes to Rep. Mike Winder, who, in his final legislative session, leaped at the opportunity to sponsor HB 307 and persuade his colleagues that 2022 was the year to make Utah the 31st state with our own EITC, something that advocates for reducing poverty have sought for decades.

The new Earned Income Tax Credit is non-refundable, which means it will not reach the lowest-income fifth of Utah workers who need it the most, including those struggling to work their way out of intergenerational poverty. About 80% of the value of the federal EITC is the refundable portion, which offsets other federal taxes paid by the lowest income workers. Most state level EITCs are also refundable, allowing them to offset the sales, gas, and property taxes paid by low-income workers to state and local governments. In Utah, the lowest income workers pay, on average, 7.5% of their incomes in those taxes, which is a higher share of their incomes than that paid in all state and local taxes by the highest income Utahns. The new nonrefundable EITC will help moderate income Utahns (the second fifth of the income distribution), primarily those earning between $30,000 and $55,000. Moderate income Utah families certainly need the help, so the creation of a Utah EITC is a great step in the direction of better tax policy. We hope that Utah will soon follow in the footsteps of other states that began with a non-refundable EITC and then decided to make it refundable.  

The income tax rate reduction continues an unfortunate pattern in recent decades of tax breaks for those who need them the least -- tax breaks that both increase inequality and starve Utah's schools of the resources they need to succeed. In 2007 we cut the top income tax rate from 7% to 5%, then in 2018 to 4.95%, now this year to 4.85%.  The income tax is the only non-regressive tax Utah has, the only one that actually lines up with Utah's income distribution. Ironically, as income inequality worsens, it is also Utah's fastest growing source of revenue, which offered Utah our best hope for seeing our education system benefit from Utah's rapid economic growth -- until we began targeting that rapidly growing revenue source for tax cuts.  

Here is a summary chart of this year's tax cuts and how they impact Utahns in each fifth of Utah's income distribution:

SB59 summary chartSource: Utah Legislative Fiscal Analyst (excluding the $15 million corporate portion of the income tax rate cut) 

Another way to think about the income tax rate reduction from 4.95% to 4.85% is to consider how it impacts a median income family of four. According to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, such a family receives a tax cut of $98. But when you divide the $164 million price tag of the income tax rate reduction by Utah’s K-12 student population of about 675,000, then multiply by the two kids that the median income family of four has in school, you see that that average family that is gaining $98 in a tax break is giving up $485 that is now not going to be spent on their kids’ education every year. Not going to be spent on smaller class sizes or more experienced teachers or more up-to-date technology. Not going to be spent on closing the gaps in our education system between majority and minority groups and between haves and have-nots, gaps which are larger than nationally. 

The choice made by UtLeg fo the Utah middle class family of 4png

It's also important to see this year's income tax rate cut in the context of decades of top-heavy tax breaks passed by the Legislature. According to the Utah State Tax Commission, Utah has been passing, on average, $100 million a year of new tax breaks for over 35 years. This now adds up to over $3.5 billion not available every year to invest in Utah's children -- their education, health care, and basic economic security. In fact, the Invest in Utah's Future Coalition has identified over $5 billion of unmet needs in a wide range of areas of public responsibility. 

For a full summary of this year's legislative actions on taxes, you can....

 

 

 

 

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Voices for Utah Children Statement on the News that the Legislature Is Considering a Constitutional Amendment to End the Education Earmark of Income Tax Revenue:

A Constitutional Amendment Won’t Help If Utah Keeps Cutting Taxes

It is understandable that Utah legislators would want greater flexibility in how they can use public revenues. But there is a much larger problem that increased flexibility would do nothing about and would even delay solving: the chronic public revenue shortages that afflict our state following decades of tax cutting.

Utah has been cutting taxes by an average of $100 million annually for at least the last 35 years. According to Tax Commission data (see slide #8), this now adds up to about $3.5 billion in revenue not available for Utah’s annual state budget every year. As a result, public revenues are now lower than they've been in half a century relative to Utahns' incomes. The decisions in recent decades by Utah's Governors and Legislatures to give in to the tax cut temptation are at the root of Utah’s chronic revenue shortages in nearly every imaginable area of public responsibility, as documented by the Invest in Utah’s Future Coalition.

This year’s decision to pass a $164 million cut in the income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.85% (SB59 1st sub fiscal note) is an unfortunate example of this impulse toward thinking about short-term gain rather than the long-term needs of our state. This change gives a middle-class family of four a $98 tax cut, but it also means that $485 will now not be invested in that family’s two children in school. ($164 million divided by 675,000 children in Utah’s K-12 education system multiplied by two kids)

Every Utah family with children should ask the Governor and Legislative leaders, “Will you use this increased flexibility to enact even more tax cuts that deprive our children of the education that they need and deserve?” If our leaders are not prepared to answer that question unequivocally, then Utahns should know that such an amendment would just enhance budget writers' ability to "rob Peter to pay Paul" and not address the root cause of Utah’s problem.

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Kids Count Utah: A Data Book on the Measures of Child Well-Being in Utah, 2021 is the first glance at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utah’s children. Please click on the button below for the full report. 

2021 UTAH KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK

Children under the age of 18 make up a third of the state’s population. Not surprisingly, Utah children and their families faced additional challenges as a result of living through a global pandemic.

Unfortunately, over 10 percent of Utah children are experiencing poverty. Additionally, since 2019 Utah saw an increase of over 4,000 additional children considered to be in Intergenerational Poverty (IGP). More children caught in a cycle of IGP is concerning as it could mean that their own children may continue that same cycle if their economic situation does not improve.

Providing a quality education to children during the pandemic continues to be a challenge. The most recent data shows that student proficiency assessment results decreased over the past year. And data also shows that many children are not receiving the mental health treatment they need. A new data indicator shared in the 2021 data book looked at access to mental health. The data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that approximately 60% of three- to 17-year-olds struggling with mental health are not receiving treatment.

Voices for Utah Children hopes that the yearly KIDS COUNT data book project and the publication of Measuring of Child Well-Being in Utah continues to be a valuable resource that can provide guidance to both policymakers and the general public on how to improve the lives and futures of Utah children.

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Children’s Budget Report Finds Utah Is Spending More On Children Than Ever Before, But Education Funding Effort Is At A Record Low

Salt Lake City, December 9, 2021 - Voices for Utah Children, the state’s leading children’s policy advocacy organization, released its biennial Children's Budget Report.  The report, published every other year, measures how much (before and after inflation) the state invests every year in Utah’s children by dividing all state programs concerning children (which add up to about half of the overall state budget) into seven categories, without regard to their location within the structure of state government. The seven categories are as follows, in descending order by dollar value (adding state and federal funds together):

breakdown p1state pie

breakdown p2fed pie

Public investment in children should be understood as a central component of Utah’s economic development strategy.  Examining how much Utah invests in children can help the state evaluate whether it is maximizing the potential of our future workforce through our investment in human capital. 

This is especially important given the rapid demographic changes taking place in our state. The 2020 Census found that 30% of Utahns under 18 are members of a racial or ethnic minority (almost one-third of our future workforce), compared to just 24% in 2010. The investments we make today in reducing racial and ethnic gaps among Utah’s children will enable the state to thrive and prosper for generations to come

cycle.png

Report highlights are as follows
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good ok bad

Good News: Utah is investing more in the next generation now than ever before, both overall and on a per-child basis

spending per kid

Not-so-good News: The non-K-12 Education portion of the Children’s Budget peaked on a per-child basis in FY 2016 and has fallen since then by 2%

non educ spend per kid

Bad News: Utah’s education funding effort continues to fall to record low levels

 educ fund hist

Additional Trends: Changes in Funding by Source 

overall graph

Trends in Education Funding: UT beat ID for 49th place, still far behind US overall 

us ut funding

UTIDGap

 MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE CHILDREN'S BUDGET REPORT:

Facebook Live Event presenting the 2021 Children's Budget Report, major findings and summaries of all the categories of funding that impact children in Utah.  https://fb.watch/9O05ECPAHi/

 KSL: https://www.ksl.com/article/50308739/utah-children-drowning-in-unmet-needs-according-to-new-budget-report?utm_source=Salt+Lake+Tribune&utm_campaign=93649b5bb5-rundown_12_10_2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dc2415ff28-93649b5bb5-45560674

KRCL: https://krcl.org/blog/radioactive-110821/ 

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BROAD COALITION CALLS FOR  INVESTMENT IN UTAH’S FUTURE,  NOT TAX CUTS, DOCUMENTS $5.2 BILLION IN URGENT UNMET NEEDS

Salt Lake City – On Monday, November 8, 2021 on the steps of the Utah Capitol, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates for the poor, for disabled Utahns, for education, health care, clean air, and a variety of other popular Utah priorities held a press conference calling on the Utah Legislature to avoid cutting taxes until it has developed a comprehensive plan to address Utahns’ top concerns by investing in Utah’s future.

Following nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah is fortunate to have achieved a more rapid economic recovery than nearly every other state. Utah has also received billions in federal assistance that have padded state revenues – but only temporarily. It is expected that the Governor and Legislature will have at least $2.5 billion in new revenues to appropriate in the 2022 General Session of the Utah Legislature. 

This has led some to say that Utah is “swimming in money” and should cut the state income tax rate from 4.95 to 4.5%, a tax break of $600 million (that mostly benefits upper income families rather than Utahns in need). This tax break would be over and above the roughly $3.5 billion that the Legislature has already cut from annual revenues in recent decades (seehttps://le.utah.gov/interim/2021/pdf/00003683.pdf slide #3).

In response, today the Invest in Utah’s Future coalition presented a list of urgent unmet needs amounting to $5.2 billion, more than double the amount of the expected new revenues.

The advocates also pointed out that, according to recent reports from the Utah State Tax Commission and the Utah Foundation, taxes in Utah are the lowest that they have been in decades, following repeated rounds of tax cutting. “We understand that tax cuts are popular, but we’ve reached the point where we must ask ourselves: Are we, as the current generation of Utahns, meeting our responsibility, as earlier generations did, to set aside sufficient resources every year to invest in our children, in our future, in the foundations of the next generation’s prosperity and quality of life?” said Matthew Weinstein of Voices for Utah Children.

Speakers also referenced the recent public opinion survey by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute that found that only 27% of Utahns support tax cutting over investing in Utah’s future, consistent with other polls done in recent years by the same organizations as well as by Envision Utah and the Utah Foundation.

Here is the list of urgent unmet needs that Utah has not been able to address due to the state’s chronic revenue shortages, adding up to a total of $5.2 billion:

 Budget Area  Amount  Details  Contacts 
 K-12: Reduce class sizes from 29 to 15  

$1.1 billion ($612m K-6 only)

 

Reduce class sizes/improve student/teacher ratio below the current Utah average of 29 (vs national average of 24) to optimum class size of 15. (Source: UEA)

 

Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain

   
 K-12: Paraeducators   $312 million  

Expand paraeducators to all Utah elementary classrooms. (Source: UEA)

 

K-12: Increase school counselors

 

$130 million

 

Increase school counselors per student to the national standard optimum of 1:250. Utah’s current ratio is 1:648, compared to the national average of 1:455.   (Source: UEA)

 K-12: school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers  $285 million  

Increase student access to school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers.  (Source: UEA) 

Current and optimal ratios are: 

School psychologists: Now 1:1950/Optimal 1:500

Social workers: Now 1:3000/Optimal 1:250

Special ed teachers: Now 1:35/Optimal 1:25
 K-12 Education: reduce teacher attrition and shortages  $500-600 million  Envision Utah estimates that we need to invest an additional $500-600 million each year just to reduce teacher turnover, where we rank among the worst in the nation. Our leaders’ unwillingness to solve our education underinvestment problem is why the majority-minority gaps in Utah’s high school graduation rates are worse than nationally and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).   
 K-12 School Nurses  $84.4 million  

The Utah Department of Health annual report “Nursing Services in Utah Public Schools 2020-21” found that it would cost $84.4m to hire an additional 844 nurses so as to have one nurse in every public school building. There are currently only 224 nurse FTEs in Utah’s public schools, a ratio of 1 nurse for every 2,617 students. One nurse in every building would improve that ratio to 1:623, which would still be worse than the national average. 

Sources: www.utahschoolnurses.org/, www.nasn.org, www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2021/10/01/diane-nicoll-utah-schools/  
 

Dr. Jennifer Brinton, MD, President, American Academy of Pediatrics – Utah  and Dr. William Cosgrove, Past-President -

 

K-12: 

Homeless Students

 $105.8 million  

HUD vouchers do not cover students and their families who are homeless under McKinney Vento Dept. of Education definition. For the 2019-2020 school year, Utah had a little over 13,500 K-12 homeless students. Some of them are duplicates as students move from one district to another. Also the same household has multiple children.  If we assume we have: 

  • 9,000 households with homeless students 
  • fair market rent at $1,400  
  • families paying $420 for their rent (30% AMI)
  • voucher will pay $980 monthly
  • total annual allocation is $105,840,000

Source: Utah Housing Coalition

 

Utah Housing Coalition Advocacy & Outreach Coordinator Francisca Blanc –  

 Full Day Kindergarten  

$52.5 million

 Voices for Utah Children estimates that it will cost $52.5 million to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.  Voices for Utah Children Sr. Policy Analyst Anna Thomas  and Pastor Brigette Weier, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church  
 Pre-K and Child Care  

$1 billion

 Well over $1 billion is one estimate for a much needed comprehensive system of early childhood care and education (pre-k) in Utah. 
 Afterschool Programs  

$3.6 million

 Utah’s 303 afterschool programs serve 43,000 kids but still leave 99,000 unsupervised every day after school. During this past year’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant competition in Utah, $1,062,816 was available and there was $4.6 million in requests, indicating a $3.6 million funding gap. (Source: Utah Afterschool Network) Utah Afterschool Network Director Ben Trentelman –  
 Health Insurance: Children  $5 million  It would cost Utah about $5 million to pay for SB158 to remove barriers to health insurance coverage so that all Utah kids can access health insurance, including 12-month continuous eligibility. Utah currently ranks last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and in the bottom 5 states for all children. Source: Voices for Utah Children  Voices for Utah Children Deputy Director Jessie Mandle  
 

Health Insurance:

New parents
 $5 million  Extending Post-Partum Medicaid Coverage for new parents up to one year (now just 60 days) Source: Voices for Utah Children
 Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Treatment  Uncertain  

Utah ranks last in the nation for mental health treatment access, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.

2020 report from the Legislative Auditor General found that Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative had failed to achieve its goal to reduce recidivism -- and actually saw recidivism rise -- in part because “both the availability and the quality of the drug addiction and mental health treatment are still inadequate.” (page 51)

Stakeholders identify the highest priority items as: housing and workforce capacity.  There is a need to expand student enrollment slots in universities for MSWs (Masters in Social Work), MFTs (Marriage & Family Therapists) and MHCs (Mental Health Counselors), and to provide scholarships at these institutions to attract students. 
 
 Disability Services  $30 million  

The DSPD disability services waiting list has doubled in the last decade from 1,953 people with disabilities in 2010 to 3,911 in 2020.

The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list, implying that it could cost $30 million to eliminate the waiting list entirely. 
 Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities – Jan Ferre
 

Rural Utah Economic Development

 Uncertain  Rural Utahns should not feel that they need to abandon their home communities and add to the growth pressures along the Wasatch Front in order to provide for their families. Rural economic development would benefit all Utahns and reduce disparities between the Wasatch Front and other areas of the state.   Community Action Partnership of Utah - Stefanie Jones and Clint Cottam –  
 Transportation Access  $300 million  

Increase access to employment and educational opportunities for more people, especially lower-income communities. Provide additional transit connections, including extended evening and weekend service. Establish more ‘active transportation‘ (bike and pedestrian) connections to increase equity of access. 

Source: Wasatch Front Regional Council
 
 Left Behind Workers and Families   $154 million  

Last year’s report “Left Out: Adding Up the Cost of Excluding

Undocumented Utahns from State and Federal COVID-19 Relief” showed how undocumented Utahns and their families (comprising 39,000 households with over 100,000 individuals) work hard and pay taxes but were excluded from $154 million of federal COVID and unemployment relief.
 Comunidades Unidas – Brianna Puga –  
 Sexual and Domestic Violence  $85 million  

Our economy incurs steep economic costs as a result of sexual and domestic violence. The Center for Disease Control estimates that over a lifetime the costs for a female survivor are $103,762 and for a male survivor $23,414. These include medical costs, loss of employment or interruption of paid work, criminal justice system costs, among others. 

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 2017 Needs Assessment identified insufficient funding for shelters, affordable housing, child care, legal representation, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services as major obstacles to protecting women from domestic violence. 

In the 2021 Utah Legislative Session, fourteen private non-profit domestic violence service providers submitted an appropriations request of $3.4 million in ongoing state funds. However, only $1.7 million was funded through federal TANF funds. No ongoing state funds were approved. Unfortunately, only two domestic violence service providers were able to accept and utilize the TANF funds. The remaining twelve domestic violence service providers were unable to accept those funds because TANF eligibility requirements conflict with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) confidentiality provisions. 

The actual cost to meet the needs of Utahns experiencing sexual and domestic violence is much higher than is reflected in the 2021 appropriations request and has been estimated to total $85 million. (Source: Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Restoring Ancestral Winds)

 

Gabriella Archuleta, Director of Public Policy, YWCA Utah    

and

Yolanda Francisco-Nez, Executive Director of Restoring Ancestral Winds  
 Housing  $415 million

Funding to build affordable housing state-wide for people earning less than 50% AMI. In Salt Lake County alone, the current need is $1 billion.  Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden.

For more information on the current and ongoing needs visit https://endutahhomelessness.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/HousingNow-Deck-12.pdf
  

Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake - Jean Hill -

 Homeless Services  $55 million   Case manager positions have been underfunded for the past several years and most do not make a living wage. The homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County also maintain a perpetual gap in state funding of at least $3 million per year. In 2019, homeless service providers across the state sought $41 million in funding for ongoing programs, including case management.  At that time, the state provided $12 million. The following year, the state provided $9 million.  Covering even the basic needs of providers would be a huge step forward in our efforts to reduce homelessness across the state.  
 Housing for Seniors   

$30 million/

year for 10 years
 

If we don’t fund preservation of affordable housing for seniors we will lose valuable units. A very general estimate would be $50,000 per unit for perhaps 5,000 units.  This equates to $250 million in rehab costs. 

What is more realistic is subsidizing 5,000 at say $500 per month or $30 million per year which would allow these projects to Borrow the money for rehab. Over 10 years the total is $300 million but the state would pay this over 10 years. The $250 million up front to rehab the units would likely keep them going for 10 years, then more rehab would be required. https://www.utahhousing.org/preserving-senior-affordable-housing-report.html 

https://nyuds.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=b8318f874017488ea9bdd51a296e59ef for senior housing report
 Utah Housing Coalition Director Tara Rollins  
 Air Quality  $100 million  In 2018 Gov. Gary Herbert proposed $100 million for clean air initiatives but the Legislature did not fully fund this goal. 

The Wasatch Front ranks as the 11th worst air quality in the nation for ozone and 7th worst for short-term particle pollution.

Investments should align with the principles in Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Road Map, and have fallen short in previous years. 
 
 Air Quality in Schools  

$35 million

 Funding for air purifiers in every classroom in Utah, which would reduce the risks both from COVID and from Utah’s air pollution and could be expected to result in improved school performance, even more than standard interventions such as reducing class size by 30%, or “high dose” tutoring. (Source: Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment)  UPHE Director Jonny Vasic -
 Air Quality: Promote Transit  $60 million  Funding for UTA to eliminate fares entirely on all UTA conveyances as has been done already in dozens of cities to varying degrees, including in the SLC Free Fare Zone. (Source: Steve Erickson fiscal estimate, https://freepublictransport.info/city/ )  Steve Erickson -  
 Hunger  Uncertain  It is clear that the state needs to do more in providing funding and other resources to help support local community food pantries. Earlier this year, Utahns Against Hunger conducted a community food pantry survey and found that in 2020, a quarter of pantry respondents had a funding gap, with 15% of respondents having a gap of $10,000 or more.  Utahns Against Hunger – Gina Cornia –  and Alex Cragun  
 Utah EITC  

$100 million

 Utah should become the 31st state to offer a 20% state match to this highly popular federal tax break. This refundable tax cut targeted to low- and moderate-income working families has been proven to reduce poverty by drawing lower-skilled persons into the workforce, moving them toward independence and self-sufficiency. Most of this tax cut goes to the lowest income fifth of Utahns, those earning under $28,000, and the rest goes to the second fifth of the income scale, those earning under $50,000.   Voices for Utah Children – Matthew Weinstein –  
 Eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food  $130 million  

The food tax is the most regressive tax. One-third of it is paid by the lowest-income half of Utah households, who earn less than a sixth of all Utah income. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, low-income families pay 36% of their income on food while higher-income families spend only 8%. This is why 37 states do not charge any sales tax on food.

 Rev Libby Hunter, Cathedral Church of St. Mark, speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Religious Communities (Bill Tibbitts – )   
 About those water project boondoggles…    Federal rules permit the use of ARPA funds for water infrastructure projects, but Utah would save billions of dollars and millions of gallons by investing in conservation first to reduce usage in one of the most water-wasteful states in the nation. Those ARPA dollars would be better used addressing the urgent unmet human needs of our fellow Utahns.   Utah Rivers Council – Zach Frankel –  and Lindsey Hutchison  
 Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion    

Our public fiscal policies – how we generate and expend public investment dollars – have a direct impact on whether we are widening or narrowing the gaps between different groups in Utah. The new Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion must be more than just words on a page.

 https://slchamber.com/public-policy/utah-compact/ 
 Angel Castillo, Ogden NAACP  

 TOTAL

$5.177 billion – more than double the amount of “surplus” revenue that the Legislature expects to have   

  3.4b tax cut USTC

3.4b tax cut text

 Invest press conf 11 8 21

Live recording of the Invest in Utah's Future press conference 11/8/21: https://fb.watch/99bpgYEAqp/ 

Printable version of this document is here

Media coverage is posted at KSL and Deseret News and Fox-13.  

ONE PAGERS ABOUT THE VARIOUS UNMET NEEDS: 

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Beginning this Summer 2021, Utah Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be receiving approximately $615 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan. Now is the time to use this funding to help our youngest learners that will need the additional instruction and interventions now more than ever.

In this explainer, Voice's staff Anna Thomas and Laneta Fitisemanu will cover the ESSER funding Utah is set to receive as well as ways that we can use the funds and support full day kindergarten and preschool expansion. 

We have exactly two school years (2021-22, 2022-23) and three summers (2021, 2022, 2023) to spend these funds. It is critical that we think big picture about where we invest this money when it comes to education.

We have strong data and evidence supporting that full day kindergarten and preschool programs help improve learning gaps for children that participate particularly for our most vulnerable and underrepresented student groups. This is why using ESSER funds to help expand these much wanted and needed programs is critical and one of the most important investments we can make that will have a huge impact for years to come.

Let's invest in Utah kids by using this relief funding to expand early education programs and further support the value and importance of giving more of Utah children and families access to full day kindergarten and preschool programs! 

Resources and References

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We appreciate the many legislators that supported bills affecting children. In summary, it WAS a good year for kids, but we still have plenty to do and we look forward to working together to #investinutahkids!

Early Childhood

Early childhood care and education had several key wins. The legislature approved:

  •  $7m in new funding for Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (which many districts use, with other funding sources, to offer full-day kindergarten)

  • $3m in new funding for School Readiness grants (to support high-quality preschool programs)

  • $5m in newly restored funding for preK-3 teacher professional development.

  • In addition, new legislation directed expansion in eligibility for working families to receive state childcare support, and several bills aimed to create efficiencies and financial stability for the childcare providers these working families rely on. 

Juvenile Justice

In the area of Juvenile Justice, legislators approved several bills that continue the state’s effort to refine ongoing efforts to reform and improve the juvenile justice system, which included:

  • A bold bill outlining and clarifying the Miranda rights of youth who are interrogated by police (ensuring that either parents or attorneys are present for such questioning.

  • An innovative pilot program to offer youth in secure care access to college courses through Dixie State University.

  • Finally, school-based discipline and the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) received some attention, with legislators giving a moratorium on criminal enforcement of state truancy laws during the remaining months of the pandemic and providing additional direction with regard to SRO training in public schools. 

Health

We were thrilled to see our Legislature take significant steps to prioritize children’s health coverage this Session and reduce Utah’s too-high number of uninsured children.

  • House Bill 262 (Representative Welton) provides ongoing funding for CHIP/Medicaid outreach so that more families can connect with affordable health insurance options for their kids. In addition, Senate Bill 158 would have removed barriers to health insurance, so all Utah children could get covered and keep their coverage.

  • In addition to children’s coverage, we saw important steps forward for children’s access to mental health this legislative Session including HB 337, sponsored by Representative Eliason, which will allow more early childhood providers to receive valuable training in infant mental health and also strengthen statewide systems to respond to the mental health needs of young children.

  • The legislature also made changes to ensure that funding for Utah’s maternal mental health program and awareness campaign were made permanent; thanks to Representative Dailey-Provost for championing this change for families.

  • Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that will make it easier for kids to access preventive dental health care. Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, allows dental hygienists to bill Medicaid, which will help promote greater access to dental care in school-based and childcare settings. 

Cover All Kids Campaign Update

Senate Bill 158 passed the Senate with broad support, but unfortunately it was not funded. We look forward to continuing to support the bill sponsor, Senator Luz Escamilla, and floor sponsor, Representative Francis Gibson, to get this important bill across the finish line next year.

Continuous Medicaid Eligibility Update

Unfortunately, the Legislature did not restore state funding for continuous eligibility for children on Medicaid ages 0-5. Continuous eligibility was funded in the 2020 General Session but eliminated as part of budgetary cuts over the summer. Continuous eligibility guarantees children will have a year of stable Medicaid coverage, as they already have with CHIP. The good news is that thanks to temporary federal requirements, all children currently have this option. However, when the federal public health emergency ends, this option will end too, which could lead to significant loss and disruptions in children’s coverage if state funding is not restored. This past year has shown us just how vital it is that all children and families across Utah have access to health care and coverage. Stable, affordable health coverage for all Utahns will be critical to our state’s ability to rebound and recover.

Other Legislative Priorities 

During this past legislative session, we were happy to support a number of bills that are “good for kids” outside of our main policy priorities including the following bills that include policies that we will continue to work on this upcoming year!

  • We supported and are glad to continue working with the International Rescue Committee on supporting our immigrant and refugee families through HCR 22: Concurrent Resolution Celebrating the Contributions of Multilingual and Multicultural Families to Utah Schools. 
  • HB 338: School District Voter Eligibility Amendments would have created a pathway for school districts to choose whether students age 16-17 can vote in their local elections. It was led by a young person, Dhati Oomen, but unfortunately did not pass. We will continue to further advocate for greater youth civic engagement through this bill and beyond.

  • Lastly, we supported and advocated for SB 214: Official Language Amendments as a positive first step to ensure we have greater language inclusion in our state. While we recognize that this is not a full repeal of the 2000 “English-only” law, this bill does remove funding restrictions and “official communications that exist” while keeping English as the official language in place.  We will continue to work on ensuring this law is repealed completely in the coming year.

Tax and Budget

Tax cuts were a big item of discussion, and there were three tax cuts passed:

  • There was an $18 million Social Security Income Tax Credit

  • $24 million Military Retirement Income Tax Credit

  • $55 million Tax Cut tied to the personal exemption related to the dependent tax credit.  

Voices opposed these three items as they were primarily a benefit to the top 40% of taxpayers and excluded the lowest-income 40% almost entirely.  

We were also advocating for a $7 million Earned Income Tax Credit equal to 10% of the federal EITC targeted to Utahns in intergenerational poverty. This was passed in December 2019 as part of the tax restructuring law that was repealed in the 2020 Session. Lastly, there were two bills to lower the State Income Tax Rate, which did not pass. We were opposed to both bills for a number of reasons.  The cuts would have led to a more regressive tax structure and depriving us of much needed future revenues.

We have many unfunded needs and it is our opinion that we should not cut taxes any further until we address those needs and provide the required funds.

>> Check out our Facebook page for FB Live updates of each policy area. 

Published in News & Blog

Voices for Utah Children Calls on Governor Cox to Veto Three Tax Cut Bills Due To New Federal Law

 Salt Lake City -- Voices for Utah Children, the state's leading child research and advocacy organization, issued a call today (Friday, March 12, 2021) for Governor Spencer Cox to veto three recently passed tax cut bills, HB 86, SB 11, and SB 153. The organization cited this week's enactment of new federal legislation, H.R. 1319, The American Rescue Plan Act, signed yesterday by President Biden, which cuts federal COVID relief aid to states by $1 for each $1 of tax cuts enacted on or after March 3, 2021. The three tax cut bills in question have yet to be signed by Governor Cox. 

 Voices for Utah Children's Fiscal Policy Director Matthew Weinstein said, "The three bills in question are tax cuts that almost completely exclude the lowest income 30-40% of Utah taxpayers and mostly benefit the highest-income 30-40% of filers. They permanently reduce by $100 million annually our ability to invest in our urgent unmet needs such as education, public health, poverty prevention, closing majority-minority gaps, infrastructure, clean air, and so on. Now we learned this week that their price has just doubled. Because the new federal COVID relief law penalizes states for tax cuts on a dollar-for-dollar basis, they will actually cost Utah $200 million of revenue next year, not just $100 million."

 Voices for Utah Children CEO Moe Hickey said, "This year we've launched our new #InvestInUtahKids campaign to raise awareness of the urgency of making investments today that will bear fruit for our children tomorrow. We applaud the Legislature for adding funds this year for pre-K and Optional Enhanced Kindergarten. At the same time, tremendous unmet needs remain and we cannot lose Federal Funds at this time. We urge Gov. Cox to consider whether it may be best to save these tax cuts for future consideration now that their price tag has doubled." 

 The federal legislation reads as follows: 

A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit, or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

COVERED PERIOD.—The term ‘covered period’ means, with respect to a State, territory, or Tribal government, the period that— (A) begins on March 3, 2021; and (B) ends on the last day of the fiscal year of such State, territory, or Tribal government in which all funds received by the State, territory, or Tribal government from a payment made under this section or a transfer made under section 603(c)(4) have been expended or returned to, or recovered by, the Secretary.

Published in Press Releases
February 24, 2021

The High Price of Lower Taxes

Legislative leaders have said that 2021 should be “the year of the tax cut.” Numerous public opinion surveys show that Utahns disagree. This may come as a surprise to policymakers, who have been in the habit of handing out tax break after tax break for decades.

But there seems to be an increasing public awareness that Utah is now paying a price for decades of tax cutting that have left us with the lowest overall tax level in 50 years relative to Utah personal income.

UTAH'S URGENT UNMET NEEDS

We all like being able to pay less in taxes. But there is a growing understanding that tax cuts are leaving us unable to address the long list of urgent unmet needs in education, infrastructure, social services, air quality, public health, and many other areas that affect our standard of living and quality of life. All of these issues will shape the Utah that our children will one day inherit. 

Outlined below are some examples of the urgent unmet needs in Utah. 

Early Care and Education

Amount

Unmet Need

$500-600 Million/Year

Envision Utah estimates that we need to invest an additional $500-600 million each year just to reduce teacher turnover, where we rank among the worst in the nation. 

Our leaders’ unwillingness to solve our education underinvestment problem is why our high school graduation rate is below the national average (after adjusting for demographics) and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).

$52.5 Million/Year Voices for Utah Children estimates that it will cost $52.5 million to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.
$1 Billion Well over $1 billion is one estimate for a much needed comprehensive system of early childhood care and education (pre-k) in Utah.

 

Health

Amount

Unmet Need

$59 Million/Year

It would cost Utah about $59 million each year to cover all of our 82,000 uninsured children.

The longstanding preference for tax cuts over covering all kids is why we rank last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and why the state as a whole ranks in the bottom 10 nationally for uninsured children.

 

Human Services

Area 

Unmet Need

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

Utah ranks last in the nation for mental health treatment access, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.

A 2020 report from the Legislative Auditor General found that Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative had failed to achieve its goal to reduce recidivism -- and actually saw recidivism rise -- in part because “both the availability and the quality of the drug addiction and mental health treatment are still inadequate.” (pg 51)

Disability Services

The DSPD disability services waiting list has doubled in the last decade from 1,953 people with disabilities in 2010 to 3,911 in 2020.

The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list.  

Domestic Violence The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 2017 Needs Assessment identified insufficient funding for shelters, affordable housing, child care, legal representation, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services as major obstacles to protecting women from domestic violence. 
Seniors

The official poverty measure undercounts senior poverty by about a third because it does not consider the impact of out-of-pocket medical expenses.

2018 study found that seniors spent $5,503 per person on out-of-pocket medical expenses in 2013, making up 41% of their Social Security income. (For most seniors, Social Security is the majority of their income, and it makes up 90% or more of income for 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried seniors.)  

 

Infrastructure, Environment, and Housing

 Area

Unmet Need

Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Utah a C+ grade for infrastructure in its December 2020 report

The Utah Transportation Coalition has identified a funding shortfall of nearly $8 billion over the next two decades.

Air Quality  The Wasatch Front ranks as the 11th worst air quality in the nation for ozone and 7th worst for short-term particle pollution
Housing

Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden.

The FY21 affordable housing appropriation request for $35 million from Sen. Anderegg, which was already just a small step in the right direction, was reduced to just $5 million.

 

WHY TAX CUTS ARE A BIG DEAL

Some legislators have said to us, "What's the big deal with $100 million of tax cuts out of a $22 billion budget?".

The big deal is that we’ve been cutting, on average, about $100 million every single year for the last 25 years.

Voices for Utah Children’s research has found that tax cuts from the last 25 years has left us short $2.4 billion each year, amounting to an 18% cut to public revenues.

One could even call us a “slow-motion Kansas” because in 2012 they cut taxes overnight by 15%, leading to an economic slump and political backlash that saw the Republican legislature reverse the cuts in 2017 and the public elect a Democratic governor in 2018.

But here in Utah, we’re like the proverbial frog in the pot of water heating on the stove. The devastating impacts of these revenue reductions have been slow and incremental, so we’ve come to accept as normal a state of affairs that Kansans quickly reversed.

Instead of figuring out the fairest way to restore some of those lost revenues so we can address our most urgent challenges, Utah’s political leadership continues to pass new tax cuts every year, generally skewed toward the top of the income scale.

For example, Voices for Utah Children analyzed two of the tax cuts proposed this year and found that they excluded lower-income Utahns completely and mostly went to the highest-income households – even though their supporters said publicly that they are intended to help low- and middle-income Utahns.

Public opinion surveys conducted last year by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute, by the Utah Foundation, and by Envision Utah all found a strong popular preference for public investment over tax cuts.

Same thing with surveys this month by the Deseret News-Hinckley Institute and by Voices for Utah Children.

Breaking old habits can be hard. As is often the case, the public appears to be ahead of our political leaders. But let's hope that they too will eventually come to appreciate the wisdom of their constituents, who are increasingly aware of the high price Utah is paying for lower taxes.


Utah has been fortunate in weathering the current recession. This gives us a unique opportunity to be able to make smart long-term investments at a time when other states are cutting budgets. As a State we need to take advantage of this situation and invest in Utah kids, not tax cuts.

THIS OP-ED APPEARED IN THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE ON MARCH 1, 2021

Published in News & Blog
February 22, 2021

Tax Cut Survey Results

Voices for Utah Children Releases Tax Cut Survey Results:

90% Support Investing In Utah Kids Rather Than Tax Cuts

Salt Lake City -- Today, February 23, 2021, Voices for Utah Children released the current results of our Tax Cut Survey.

The Tax Cut Survey is an online survey open to the public and posted at https://utahchildren.org/newsroom/speaking-of-kids-blog/item/1112-tax-cut-survey. The survey has been advertised to hundreds of thousands of Utahns through ads in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune that included graphics like this one: 

 Tax Survey 300x250 Laneta

THE RESULTS.... (drum roll please....)

So far, hundreds of Utahns from all over the state have participated in the survey, which consists of two questions: 

1.When it comes to tax cuts, is your overall opinion closer to A or B (select one)

A. We should invest in Utah kids -- their education, healthcare, and other critical needs -- rather than tax cuts, especially in light of the fact that Utah's taxes are already at a 50-year low.

B,   We should continue cutting taxes because state government has more than enough resources to accomplish what it needs to accomplish. 

90% of survey participants chose A, and 10% chose B, as illustrated in the following pie chart graphic:

TaxCutSurvey90 10chart

In question 2, the survey asked: "How would you rank the following seven possible tax cuts?"

Participants ranked the seven options as follows, in order from most popular to least popular:

1) One-time Utah tax rebates for low incomes ($200/person)

2) Utah EITC -- a state match for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate incomes

3) One-time Utah tax rebates for low and moderate incomes ($100/person)

4) Military pension and Social Security tax credit for low-income retirees

5) Child tax exemption expansion for middle- and upper-income families with children

6) Military pension and Social Security tax credit for high-income retirees

7) Income tax rate reduction (mostly benefits high-income households)

The survey webpage also includes a detailed description of each of the proposals, including bill numbers for some of the items.

WHAT DO THESE RESULTS MEAN?

The response to the first question -- a strong public disinclination to support tax cuts -- is consistent with three surveys done in 2020 -- all of which were rigorous public opinion surveys intended to accurately reflect the views of Utahns in all their diversity, unlike this open, online survey. Those three surveys last year were conducted by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute, by the Utah Foundation, and by Envision Utah, and they all found a similar strong popular preference for public investment over tax cuts. A new survey this month by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute also found majority support for investing in Utah's future rather than cutting taxes. 

The response to the second question -- a clear inclination to favor tax cuts for lower-income Utahns over tax cuts for upper-income Utahns -- runs counter to the plans outlined by Legislative leaders this week to pass tax cuts that mostly benefit upper income Utahns and exclude lower-income Utahns from tax relief. A detailed analysis of two of those proposals is on the Voices for Utah Children website.

Survey participants were offered the opportunity to share their location and any additional thoughts, and here are some of the comments that were left:

  • A survey participant from Clearfield commented, "I love EITC. It helps those who need it most and rewards people for working. If this passes, I would really like to see more singles and older couples who are not currently included in federal EITC included. This may be a targeted way to help low-income seniors."
  • A survey participant from Mt. Pleasant commented, "I am a US Army Reserve retiree. Every year the State of Utah gouges me for more than the feds Give the military, especially the lower income USAR retirees a tax break."
  • A survey participant from Sandy commented, "We need to invest in getting people out of poverty!"
  • A survey participant from Millcreek commented, "My # 1 would be removing the sales tax on food completely."
  • A survey participant from Pleasant Grove commented, "invest in services and affordable starter homes; it's a Pandemic! and the need is so great for Utah families with low to mid incomes."
  • A survey participant from West Jordan commented, "I believe we need to leave the taxes alone for now and take care of our low income citizens.  Our DSPD [disability services] waitlist is shameful and individuals are waiting for services."
  • A survey participant from Midvale commented, "I'm okay with paying my taxes. If you want to look at a place where people don't pay enough taxes, look at India. Look at Russia, look at Mexico. Let's make sure that money collected by the government is being spent on families, education, healthcare and keeping our cities and towns running efficiently and effectively for EVERYONE. We know that trickledown economics has a limited effect and let's not let the highest earners amongst us allow themselves to imagine that somehow the proportion of what they are able to take from the system should be greater than what they need to pay into the system - like the rest of us."
  • A survey participant from Brigham City commented, "Tax the rich people MORE!!!"
  • A survey participant from Sandy commented, "We don't need a tax cut. We need to increase taxes specifically to provide additional help to low income families, especially children in low income families, and especially those at or below the poverty line."
  • A survey participant from Provo commented, "Successful business people invest in their businesses. Successful citizens invest in their children"
  • A survey participant from Sandy commented, "I am single income, no kids (SINK) and my taxes are awful.  However, I definitely want to help low income families."
  • A survey participant from Spanish Fork commented, "Eliminate taxes on Social security benefits."
  • A survey participant from Farmington commented, "I do not favor reinstating sales tax on food."
  • A survey participant from Holladay commented, "tax rebates are stupid, one-time cash gifts when SO MANY public sectors dealing with education and the homeless need to be funded!"

Voices for Utah Children's Fiscal Policy Director Matthew Weinstein commented, "Political leaders are calling for tax cuts, but average Utahns are not. Utahns see the state of our schools and the unmet needs in so many areas of public responsibility. Utahns want to see our leaders solve those problems, especially as we continue to grapple with all the challenges of the COVID pandemic and recession."

The survey remains open through the end of the legislative session on March 5. All Utahns are invited to express their views at https://utahchildren.org/newsroom/speaking-of-kids-blog/item/1112-tax-cut-survey.

In addition, Utahns who want to write their legislators about this issue are invited to make use of our customizable form letter by clicking here

Published in Press Releases
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