Posted By Eric Ethington on October 24, 2012
As we all (hopefully) head to the polls this year, we’ll not only be voting for candidates and judges, but also two different constitutional amendments. Below is my analysis and recommendations.
Constitutional Amendment A: Required Severance Tax Deposits In The Permanent Trust Fund.
My Recommendation: VOTE “NO”
For those who don’t know, severance taxes are what the state collects when natural resources mined in Utah, such as gas or oil, are sold. Utah is one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t automatically use severance taxes for education, rather they are automatically split. A portion goes into the general fund which can be used for anything the Legislature wishes, and the other significant portion goes into the Permanent Trust Fund (aka.. saved for the future). Meanwhile, our public education system relies on revenues collected from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and Income Taxes.
The argument made by the author of this Constitutional Amendment, Representative Jim Nielson, is that the state doesn’t need the money we’re collecting right now, so we should be hoarding even more of it away. To explain it briefly, money in the General Fund can be used at any time for any project by the State Legislature, while the Permanent Trust Fund is much more difficult to access (it requires approval by 75% of the Legislature and the Governor).
Here’s my problem: The State is already struggling to fulfill many of its obligations, and adequately cover needed services statewide. For example, pay levels for Highway Troopers and others who put their lives on the line for us have been frozen for years now, resources for Utah’s medicaid program are running thin, and our schools are still languishing at dead last in the nation on per-pupil funding.
If Constitutional Amendment A succeeds at the ballot box this year, Utah will have even less money to work with, and it seems inevitable that we will need those funds that are being locked away. The Legislature finds a new pet project every year they want to work on, which requires those tax dollars we’ve all paid. But if the money is no longer available, the Legislature’s only option is to pull funds out of other programs, such as…. wait for it… public education.
While saving is smart, Utah is only beginning to pull out of a major recession, and locking away further money from the people of Utah who are still reeling from almost $1 Billion in budget cuts the Legislature has made over the past few years is fiscally irresponsible. As Representative Litvack put it on the House floor this past session, “In my family we save for our children’s future, but we don’t starve them tonight in order to do it.”
Contitutional Amendment B: Exemption of Property Taxes For Military Personnel
My Recommendation: VOTE “YES”
Does this one really even need a full analysis? As far as I’m concerned, we all owe a debt to our troops that can never be fully repaid. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Of course, some will disagree with this (like Senator Majority Leader Scott Jenkins – who infamously went on an anti-soldier tirade this year http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BlZbsJ5ycc). But as for me, I’m on the side of doing whatever I can for the heroes who serve us in uniform.
For further analysis and non-partisan background on the Constitutional Amendments, I recommend checking out this post from the League of Women Voters.