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Davis Journal

SJR10 would remove education funding earmark from income tax

Mar 21, 2024 12:17PM ● By Becky Ginos
Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake enjoys a moment with other lawmakers on opening day of the 2024 Legislative Session. Ballard had two important bills she sponsored pass. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake enjoys a moment with other lawmakers on opening day of the 2024 Legislative Session. Ballard had two important bills she sponsored pass. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

NORTH SALT LAKE—As the dust settles now that the 2024 Legislative Session is over, bills that were passed and the impact they’ll have on Utahns is coming to the surface. One that has already become a concern for many is SJR10 Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Income Tax. 

Currently, the Utah Constitution requires that all income tax revenue be used only for education, programs for children and programs for individuals with disabilities. The legislature passed SJR10 that would allow them to use the income tax revenue for more than just education and remove the state portion of the sales tax on food. It will be on the ballot in November for voters to decide.

Utah is the only state in the nation with these types of budget constraints, said Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake. “This leaves only 35% of state revenue, the portion that comes from sales tax, including sales tax on food, to fund all other essential government functions, including water, public safety, mental health, programs for seniors, air quality, and more.”

Every year the legislature has to decide how much they have, she said. “We have to juggle between what we have and how much we need. Structuring a base budget for education with a guaranteed WPU, funding for growth and inflation is a better way to fund education.”

More and more superintendents don’t want the legislature to mandate what they do with the funds, said Ballard. “We do both. We specifically give money for supplies in the classroom, salaries of teachers and in 2020 a $6,000 bonus to teachers during COVID. With a base budget we can do that every year and not have to start from scratch.”

Right now, education funding is reliant on income tax, she said. “Income tax fluctuates. Next year it’s changed. You can’t guarantee moving forward that we’ll spend as much toward education if income tax changes.”

The legislature has a chance to determine a base budget and then come to the table to see what is left over, said Ballard. “We can decide if it’s a tight year or a good year and what we can use for other things. That way we don’t have to stress about a base budget every year and what is going to be funded.”

Back in the 1980s and 90s income tax was much lower than sales tax, she said. “Now sales tax is the lowest pot and income tax is the highest pot. Back then it made sense to use income tax to fund education.”

People are concerned that if the earmark is removed there will be no money for education, said Ballard. “That is simply not the case. It’s more problematic now because you can’t guarantee funding depending on whether it’s a good year or bad year.”

Ballard also had two important bills she sponsored pass. “HB192 requires all public schools to have a parental postpartum leave at the minimum of what state employees get. Three weeks of parental leave for those who adopt, grandparents taking care of the baby or a spouse, without any pay change. Six weeks if you give birth. You can’t have any retaliation like getting fired or a pay cut or denied a promotion that you would be eligible for.”

Across the state Ballard said they found teachers were being forced to take PTO. “If they took all of their PTO any other time off they don’t get paid. When they returned their pay was docked, it was like a punishment.”

Some were even required to pay for a substitute, she said. “One teacher went $11,000 in debt because their baby was in the NICU. This bill sends the message that we support mothers and parents and quality of life for teachers.”

Ballard said her second bill, HB248 makes a complete change in the culture and outcome of those who are incarcerated. “Many inmates that are in for a five to 17 year sentence never know when they’re getting out. It could be seven years before they even hear that they might be paroled then they have an exit in 30 days. It makes planning hard.”

They don’t get into a drug rehabilitation program until right before they leave, she said. “This gives them that help right out of the chute.”

Inmates can be in more than one program at a time, said Ballard. “They don’t know how to balance life when they get out. It’s an important change to help inmates prepare to re enter as citizens. I’m so excited about this.”

Everybody knows someone who has been or is in prison, she said. “This gives inmates hope for a different life when they get out instead of returning to what got them there in the first place. It’s all about corrections instead of incarceration.”