SALT LAKE CITY — House and Senate Republican leaders are floating the idea of a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the income tax earmark for education.
In exchange, lawmakers are talking about reviving the idea of eliminating the state portion of the sales tax on food.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, personally met with the Utah State Board of Education on Tuesday to discuss the idea. Senate leaders told reporters the idea is to give the state budget more flexibility when income taxes are more volatile and sales tax funds are not keeping up.
In a strong economy, income tax outperforms sales tax, said Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said they hoped to have funding issues addressed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 that shifted some social services under the education earmark.
It didn't do quite what they had hoped. So now, they're contemplating this.
"We’re trying to find a way to give us some flexibility in the constitution in terms of being able to exercise our ability to support and fund things while at the same time providing some protection for public education," Sen. Millner told reporters on Tuesday.
Changing the balance would create a pathway to eliminating the state portion of the sales tax on groceries. But because a portion of the income tax is earmarked for education funding, it requires voter approval.
Meetings are under way on Capitol Hill to try to sell people on the idea. The Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said it was studying the idea.
"The UEA’s commitment will always be to assuring our public schools have the resources, funding, and support to be the best they can be for all our students, regardless of the funding source. Any proposed changes to the Utah Constitution require significant study and reflection of both intended and potentially unintended impacts on our schools," the group said in a statement. "The many negative education bills proposed this session caused considerable distraction, to say the least - especially to our educators. UEA is focusing on supporting good bills that will help students and educators, especially with so little time remaining in the session. We are encouraged by the announcement of new revenue numbers and opportunity it gives the Legislature to provide another significant investment in public education."