Utah’s Education Crisis Deepens with $640 Million Budget Blow

Utah’s schools are facing a financial squeeze, and it’s got a lot to do with the state’s tax policies. Here’s the full story.

Utah Lawmakers Eye Tax Cuts

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Lawmakers in Utah have been talking about cutting taxes again this year. Sounds good, right? 

Budget Consequences

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Unfortunately, if they give that the green light, economic experts say it means they would have cut a whopping $640 million from the funds meant for schools and important social services over the past few years.

Tax Cuts Amidst Economic Uncertainty

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Why are they even thinking about this now? According to lawmakers, the economy isn’t doing as well as it used to, and inflation is increasing.

Despite these challenges, they’re pushing ahead with plans for a $160 million tax cut. 

Balancing Priorities in the 2024-25 Budget

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Last week, they released some new numbers about the money they expect to have for the 2024-25 budget. It’s a bit more than they thought, which is good news.

But it also means they won’t have enough to pay for everything people want, like better schools and more help for families.

Budget Talks

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They’re going to make the final call on this budget in the next two weeks.

A Senator’s Perspective

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Senator Jerry Stevenson, who heads the Senate’s top budget committee, expressed mixed feelings about the situation.

While relieved to have some extra cash to work with, he acknowledged that most of the $1 billion in spending requests for 2025 wouldn’t be fully funded. 

Prioritizing Spending

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He explained that they’d have to prioritize and maybe put off some things that were important before, stating, “If I have a slow year, I’m going to drive my truck a year longer. There are lots of things you can do to reallocate as we go through the process.”

Budgetary Review

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Earlier this year, lawmakers were scrutinizing governmental budgets left and right, looking for places to cut.

After shuffling things around, they ended up making savings, which got reallocated to beef up other parts of the state’s budget. 

Revenue Boost

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Thankfully, this recent revenue boost means they won’t have to make any additional cuts for now. 

Relief from Last Year’s Shortfall

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The extra money is good news, especially because last year, they had to deal with a $119 million shortfall.

Senate President Stuart Adams says they covered that hole by shifting money around to pay for one-time payments like buildings and roads.

Tax Cut Focus

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However, the focus on tax cuts remains a top priority for lawmakers. They’ve already slashed income taxes by $480 million, and they’re eyeing up another $160 million cut this year.

All that money adds up, and it’s coming out of future funds that could have gone to schools and social services.

Redirecting Funds from Schools 

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But here’s where experts say it gets tricky. While lawmakers are talking about cutting income taxes, they’ve already been dipping into money meant for schools in order to fund other projects. 

Complex Financial Dynamics

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Over the past couple of years, they’ve taken over $500 million in future annual revenue for schools and spent it on tax cuts and a private school voucher program.

And if they go ahead with this new tax cut, it could mean another $640 million taken away from schools.

Criticism of Tax Policies

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While some have praised Utah for dropping the state’s tax rate from 4.95% to 4.65%, not everyone agrees.

Opponents of the policies argue that this money was supposed to go towards things like schools and services for families and that by cutting taxes, they’re taking away money that could have been used to improve these services.

Diverting Funds from Public Education

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It’s not just about tax cuts. Last year, lawmakers approved a program that funnels $42 million a year away from public schools and into private school vouchers.

Now, there’s talk of bumping up funding for this program to nearly $100 million a year. That’s even less money for public schools, a fact that has outraged educators.

Education Funding Shortfall

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All these cuts and programs mean that a lot less money is going toward schools and services for families.

The situation could change depending on the outcome of a proposed constitutional change that voters will decide on in November. 

Reducing Sales Tax on Food

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Lawmakers have promised to eliminate the state portion of the sales tax on food if voters approve the change.

If this change gets the green light, it means lawmakers could use income tax money more flexibly. 

A High-Risk Maneuver?

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However, experts are warning that it also means lawmakers could shuffle money away from education after meeting certain requirements.

Flexibility vs. Accountability

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The decisions made by lawmakers in the coming months will have a big impact on the future of education in our state.

It’s a tricky balancing act between cutting taxes and funding essential services. Legislators have some tough decisions to make in the coming months.

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The post Utah’s Education Crisis Deepens with $640 Million Budget Blow first appeared on From Frugal to Free.

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The content of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute or replace professional financial advice.

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