What is SJR 22?
Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 22 is a proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution that would limit growth in the state budget to combined growth in state population and inflation. The state budget would still grow to meet the needs of the state, but at a more modest, reasonable rate. Further, if elected officials in the Legislature determined that more spending growth is needed for things like public schools or roads, they could spend beyond the limit with a 3/5 majority vote, or 60 percent of legislators.
When Utah collects tax revenue above and beyond the spending limit, these “extra” funds would be used to pay down Utah’s debt, deposited as rainy-day and emergency savings, or be sent back to us, the taxpayers.
Carried by Senator Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, SJR 22 requires a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House in order to be placed on the November 2012 ballot. (It does not require the governor’s signature.) Because SJR 22 is an amendment to the Utah Constitution, a majority of Utahns will have to vote in favor of the legislation for it to become law.
Why does Utah need SJR 22?
Utah has rightly been praised as the “best managed state in the nation” for policymakers’ prudent fiscal management, so why do we need a constitutional amendment like SJR 22?
First, we need SJR 22 simply because it embodies some of the basic, commonsense principles of provident living on which any successful family, business, or government is based: spend modestly in good times and sock away savings for the inevitable bad times to come. For the good of all Utahns who appropriately benefit from wisely managed tax dollars and government services, SJR 22 is a protection in bad economic times.
Additionally, we need SJR 22 for the same reason the Founding Fathers recognized the need to create a written, binding constitution at all: to codify their wisdom to guide future generations. Just as the Founding Fathers knew there would be future policymakers who would not be inclined to heed their political wisdom, Utah will have future elected officials that will not be inclined to heed the fiscal prudence of the current Legislature. As responsible citizens, it is our duty to ensure that the fiscal prudence of today can benefit not only our children, but our grandchildren (and our great-grandchildren, and so on) as well.
How much money would Utah save with SJR 22?
The journal Public Budgeting and Finance published an academically peer-reviewed report authored by Sutherland Institute staff that showed significant savings if a government spending amendment like SJR 22 were in place. The study showed that Utah could have had up to $4 billion in rainy day and emergency savings in 2009 had the amendment been in place since 1990.
How much money would Utah families save with SJR 22?
Cumulatively, between 1990 and 2011, the average family of four could have had more than $27,000 in extra income from extra economic growth and tax refunds –enough for about four years of college at the University of Utah – had an SJR 22-type amendment been in place. Between 1990 and 2009, total personal income in the state would have grown by $748,892,848; and an extra 13,295 jobs (at a median income of $56,000 per worker) would have been created – that’s 15 percent fewer people unemployed. More personal income means more tax revenue for our public schools.
Isn’t SJR 22 the same as TABOR in Colorado?
A Chevy Camaro and a Model T Ford are, conceptually, both cars. However, no one who knows anything about cars would try to say that they are the same.
The same is true for Utah’s SJR 22 and Colorado’s TABOR. Both seek to limit state spending, but that is where the valid comparisons end. SJR 22 establishes basic parameters of fiscal prudence in the constitution and gives legislators complete freedom to implement them and change them as reality dictates. The failed TABOR policy uses the constitution to remove the freedom that elected officials need to respond to changing times and realities.
For instance, where SJR 22 gives the Legislature the freedom to define population and inflation and vote directly to increase spending beyond the limit, TABOR imposes a definition of population and inflation on the Legislature and requires voter approval to change those definitions or to increase spending beyond the limit. In short, SJR 22 was designed to guide the Utah Legislature while trusting (and empowering) the judgment of elected officials and the citizens who elected them. TABOR, on the other hand, was conceived with a different goal: to handcuff the Colorado Legislature because of a lack of trust in the judgment of elected officials.
Does the 3/5 majority barrier mean that we won’t be able to fund public schools or build roads?
Opponents of SJR 22 claim that its three-fifths majority barrier (10 more votes than a simple majority) to spending beyond the limit will jeopardize funding for public education and transportation. But this is based in fear, not fact.
SJR 22 leaves all state spending decisions in the hands of the Legislature. The only reason the three-fifths majority provision would cause problems for public education or transportation is if legislators and their constituents choose not to prioritize them. There is no evidence to suggest that this will be the case.
Between 2002 and 2011, 32 out of 34 education-related appropriations and “base budget” bills (94 percent) passed out of both houses of the Legislature with a greater than three-fifths majority. Overall, 63 out of 65 appropriations and “base budget” bills (97 percent) passed out of both houses with greater than a three-fifths majority. In other words, the Legislature has shown a great ability to come to a broad agreement over funding priorities for programs such as public schools and new road construction. SJR 22 will not change that and, in fact, will encourage a healthy dialogue about spending necessary to achieve broad consensus.
How will SJR 22 impact funding for public schools?
The savings measures in SJR 22 will protect public education funding from economic downturns that have impacted funding in Utah during the recent recession and have ravaged public schools in other states. For instance, in recent years California – which had a spending limit policy in place until it was gutted in 1990 – has been forced to cut $18 billion from public education and eliminate 20,000 teaching positions, largely because it abandoned the fiscal prudence of the past and failed to save sufficiently in good times.
Through its fiscal prudence, the Legislature has avoided a similar fate for children in Utah’s public schools. Such prudence would be reinforced by SJR 22.
SJR 22 Bill Language (SJR 22 is the bill, carried by Senator Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, that embodies the government spending amendment)