With the first round of results posted, an amendment to expand how the state’s Education Fund is used — diverting some of it to social services — has commanded surprising support from voters.
Early Tuesday night, Amendment G was succeeding by 8 percentage points. Roughly 54% voted in favor and 46% against.
But Amendment G has been slightly more contentious from its inception.
“This would be a fundamental change to how we pay for schools,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. “It’s really a big deal.”
The education proposal came out of a failed effort by Utah lawmakers to reform taxes, which blew up earlier this year. In pushing the amendment as a way forward, proponents have said it will give the state more financial flexibility.
Currently, Utah’s Constitution requires that all income tax revenue, about $5 billion annually, go to K-12 and higher education. That income tax has been seeing fast growth, though, sales tax and gas tax — which fund every other state government program — have not in recent years.
State Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who sponsored the change, said it makes sense for the fund to “focus on the whole kid.”
To get educators on board, lawmakers passed HB357, which promises that if the amendment passes, at a minimum, schools will get enough funding to cover rising student populations and inflation. And they pledged that a percentage of new money — up to $400 million — will be put into a rainy-day fund for a recession, like the current impact COVID-19 is having on the economy.
But opponents fear these promises are nonbinding — unlike a constitutional amendment.
They worry that state leaders could also choose to fund the social services portion at a higher rate, pitting programs for those with disabilities against putting money into the classroom.
If the amendment is approved, it will take effect in January. If it isn’t, it’s still likely that lawmakers will come back with another proposal to reexamine education funding.
Perry at the Hinckley Institute said, “our legislature is still trying to grapple with that issue. Either way, this won’t be the end.”
Here’s a look at how the early results for the other six amendments on the ballot:
This changes language in Utah’s Constitution to words that are not limited to a single gender, such as “men” to “person.” It had 61% in favor.
The state Constitution states that a legislator must be at least 25 years old, be a qualified voter and live in the district they represent. The amendment clarifies that someone must be all those things on the day he or she is sworn into office. It had 81% support, after little opposition during the election season.
This amendment deletes a clause that allows slavery as a punishment for a crime. It was favored 83%.
This amendment allows the Legislature to pick its own start date for the annual 45-day session. An accompanying bill would set it for right after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Roughly 68% of voters supported it.
This developing story will be updated throughout the night.
— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this report.