Tax and Budget

New Economic Benchmarking Report Finds Utah Ahead of Texas in Most Key Metrics of Economic Opportunity and Standard of Living

Salt Lake City, August 31, 2022 - Voices for Utah Children released today the fifth in its series of economic benchmarking reports that evaluate how the Utah economy is experienced by median- and lower-income families by benchmarking Utah against another state.  This year's report, authored by Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein with support from intern Bryce Fairbanks from the University of Utah Department of Economics, compares Utah to Texas.  While the Economic Opportunity benchmarks come out nearly even, with Utah ahead in 11 and Texas ahead in 8, in the Standard of Living category Utah predominates in 20 categories and Texas in just two.

Voices for Utah Children's Economic Analyst Taylor Throne commented, "It seems clear that Texas has more to learn from Utah than vice versa. In terms of economic opportunity, Utah outperforms Texas for our labor force participation rate and our low unemployment rate (see page 13 of the report). In education, while both states are in the bottom 10 for investment, Utah claims much better 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores. At the university level, Utah invests more and enjoys stronger educational attainment levels (though our younger generation has lost the lead over the nation enjoyed by our older generations.) (See page 17.)  Utah ranks 1st in the nation for our low level of income inequality, while Texas ranks 38th. We also stand out for intergenerational mobility and rank #1 for education funding fairness while Texas ranks 34th (see page 21). In the second part of the report where we measure standard of living. Utah is the clear winner in most measures. Utah enjoys much lower rates of poverty and uninsured children (though both states rank at the bottom for insuring Hispanic/Latino children) (see page 25).The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th (see page 29). Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation (see page 33)." 

Voices for Utah Children's State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, "The main takeaways from this report and the others in the series are that Utah's economic successes put us in a position to make the new upfront investments we need to make now -- in education, public health, poverty prevention, and closing racial/ethnic gaps -- so that we can achieve our true potential and follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Minnesota that have become high-wage states and achieved a higher standard of living, and do it in such a way that all our children can have a better future."  

The report release presentation took place online and can be viewed at https://fb.watch/ffuSPZ09MR/. The presenters included both Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein as well as a special guest, Brandon Dew, President of Central Utah Labor Council.  

View Report

 

Utah's Top Economic Advantages: Hard Work & Strong Families Allow Utah to Enjoy High Household Incomes and Low Poverty 

Can Texas Learn Any Lessons from Utah? 

Utah enjoys a higher real median household income than Texas, ranking #11 nationally, although past inequities have left a legacy of barriers causing significant gaps between the median wage of different racial and ethnic groups.  Utah's higher incomes are due largely to our high labor force participation rates and our preponderance of two-worker (often two-parent) households.  

 real median household income

Even though Texas has a larger GDP per capita and ranks ahead of Utah for business climate, Utah has a higher share of people working and fewer people looking and unable to find work. Utah ranks 1st in the nation for income equality by the GINI Index, 1st for K-12 funding equity, and has fewer people living below the poverty line.

Gini index

Utah is the clear winner by most standard of living measures. The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th.  Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation. Utah also has a much fairer tax system.  Texas applies one of the highest tax rates in the nation (6th highest) to households with the lowest incomes and applies one of the lowest tax rates (9th lowest) to households with the highest income. This is because Texas has no personal or corporate income tax to offset the regressivity of their major revenue sources: sales, excise, and property taxes.  As a result, Texas is one of the highest-tax states in the nation for lower-income residents, and one of the lowest-tax states for the wealthy.

homeownershi_prates.png

Can Utah Learn Any Lessons from Texas? 

Texas leads in early childhood education for pre-k and full-day kindergarten participation. Texas also has a much smaller gender wage gap than Utah, which ranks as one of the worst states for gender equality. When disaggregated by race and ethnicity, Texas has a smaller gender wage gap than Utah for every race and ethnicity except Latino and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women.

fulldayk

Policy Implications

Strengthening the Labor Force

Utah and Texas are both far below the national average for median (50th percentile) and 10th percentile hourly wages, likely due to the fact that both are among the 20 states that never raised their minimum wages above the 2009 federal minimum of just $7.25 (now at its lowest level since 1956), and both states are among the 27 that discourage union membership through “right-to-work” laws. 

Addressing the Legacy of and Present Barriers Causing Racial & Ethnic Gaps

Racial and ethnic gaps are evident in almost every outcome where race and ethnicity are disaggregated, such as high school graduation rates, wages, gender pay gaps, poverty rates, and uninsured rates. It is important to note that these gaps were caused by social, economic, and political structures and policies that have perpetuated racial inequality, elaborated in our report. Such policies have had very serious consequences for people of color, especially children of color. And as in the rest of the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these hardships. Addressing these gaps through investments in early childhood and K-12 education, specifically where there is a high concentration of children of color (which includes many communities along the Wasatch Front, including Ogden, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Midvale, and Provo) would likely increase educational attainment, wages, and standard of living overall and would therefore contribute to reducing racial and ethnic gaps in the future.  

Restoring Education Funding Effort

The link between education and income is well-established. States with higher education levels generally have higher levels of worker productivity, wages, and incomes. Voices for Utah Children has demonstrated elsewhere that Utah’s education funding effort has fallen from top 10 in the nation in the 1990s to the bottom 10 states today. While Utah “does more with less” in education compared to other states, will we be able to continue to advance without addressing the underfunding in our public education system? Utah has racial/ethnic educational outcome gaps which are larger than the national average, our pupil-to-teacher ratio is 3rd worst in the nation at 23:1 vs the national average of 16:1, and teacher pay has also fallen by 2% over the past 50 years, while teacher salaries nationally have increased 7%.

At the college level, Utah historically was always ahead of the national average for attainment of bachelor’s degrees and above. But Census data show Utah’s lead shrinking relative to the nation with each successive generation, to the point now that Utah millennials (ages 25-34) have fallen behind their peers nationally, despite relatively generous state support and low tuition levels. In addition, for young adults who do not seek to complete a college degree, apprenticeships and other skilled training programs or ensuring state contracts pay the prevailing local wage are two policies that have proven their value for achieving higher wages.

Can Utah Become a High-Wage State?

Utah has gone from being a low-wage state a generation ago to middle-wage status today, a considerable accomplishment. One question Utah leaders may now wish to consider is, is that good enough? Should we declare, “Mission Accomplished”? Or is Utah in a position, like Colorado and Minnesota before us, to become, over time, a high-wage state and set our sights on taking the necessary steps today to achieve that goal over the years and decades to come?

Chart UT med hrly wage rank 2000 2021

Similarly, how do we include those earning the lowest wages in the gains Utah has made and will potentially make in the future?  Utah is not even a half percentage point lower than the national share of workers earning poverty-level wages and lags behind the nation’s 10th percentile wage, ranking 33rd.  Even as the state with the lowest income inequality ranking in the nation, Utah suffers from a tremendous gap between low-income workers and the rest of the income scale.

The main lesson that emerges from the Working Families Benchmarking Project reports comparing Utah to Colorado, Minnesota, Idaho, Arizona and now Texas is the following: Higher levels of educational attainment translate into higher hourly wages, higher family incomes, and an overall higher standard of living. The challenge for policymakers is to determine the right combination of public investments in education, infrastructure, public health, and other critical needs that will enable Utah to continue our progress and achieve not just steady growth in the quantity of jobs, but also a rising standard of living that includes moderate- and lower-income working families from all of Utah’s increasingly diverse communities.

The 41-page report is available for download here

 

MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE BENCHMARKING PROJECT:

The Spectrum: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/2022/09/02/report-compares-utah-texas-economy-standard-living-homes-jobs/7970912001/ 

KSL News Radio: https://kslnewsradio.com/1974565/new-report-ranks-utah-above-texas-in-aspects-of-economic-opportunity-and-standard-of-living/

Salt Lake Tribune:  https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2022/09/15/matthew-weinstein-taylor-throne/

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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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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. 

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