All of the Legislature’s budget attention has been focused on a tax overhaul bill that was released this week and adopted by the House Revenue and Tax Committee on Friday. Talk of tax restructuring has pervaded this year’s legislative session as the state’s latest revenue projections show almost 10 times the amount of new funds in the Education Fund ($477 million) over the General Fund ($52 million) in ongoing funds.
HB 441 proposes to reduce income tax by almost $100 million in FY2020 and $324 million in the two following budget years. It is projected that this reduction would be offset in increased sales tax revenues through expansion of the types of sales transactions that would be taxed.
Of particular interest is a stated goal by legislative leaders to reduce the state’s reliance on the Education Fund to fund public higher education. In 1996, Utah voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that affirmed higher education’s ability to be funded from the Education Fund – a move supported by both higher education and K-12 leaders at the time. That amendment added flexibility allowing lawmakers to ensure a balanced budget, with ability to move general fund dollars in and out of higher education and buffer school spending from the ups and downs of the tax base.
Lawmakers have stated the impact of these proposed tax changes may not be fully understood for two to three years. HB 441 awaits consideration by the full House, anticipated early this week. After which, specific budget details for the upcoming fiscal year will likely emerge by week’s end.
Legislation of Interest
**HB 158, Higher Education Student Speech Rights by Rep. Kim Coleman, establishes a specific threshold that determines when student-on-student speech becomes harassment as opposed to protected speech. This legislation comes at the same time the US Department of Education is considering similar provisions in the coming months. Passage of this bill may prematurely put schools in conflict with anticipated federal definitions of harassment. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee and the full House.
*HB 188 (1st sub), T.H. Bell Program Amendments by Rep. Lowry Snow, proposes to transition the T.H. Bell Teaching Incentive Loan Program into a scholarship with a goal to increase the number of students entering education-related college programs. The Utah Council of Education Deans (comprised of deans who oversee teacher preparation programs in Utah’s colleges and universities) has worked closely with Rep. Snow over the interim and has endorsed the legislation. The bill received strong support in the House and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee Monday morning.
**HB 248, Education Fund Designation Ratio by Rep. Marsha Judkins, proposes to limit the portion of revenue in the Education Fund (income tax revenues) to be designated for higher education at 15% (amended in committee to 20%). In the most recent year, higher education (including USHE, UETN, UTECH and buildings) received 17.6% from the Education Fund in FY19. This bill would have restricted the Legislature’s flexibility and potentially made it more difficult to fund higher education in the future. The bill failed in the House Education Committee.
*HB 260 (3rd Sub.), Access Utah Promise Scholarship by Rep. Derrin Owens creates a statewide scholarship program patterned after Dream Weber and SLCC Promise. These innovative programs, which pay the remaining college costs for qualifying students when federal grants fall short, are showing compelling results: Dream Weber students graduate college at significantly higher rates than non-Dream Weber students at Weber State University (73% to 44%, respectively). The scholarship would be available not only for students right out of high school, but adult learners as well at both USHE and UTECH institutions. Modifications were made to the bill, leaving intact the Regents’ and New Century Scholarships. This bill received strong support of the House with only three opposing votes and awaits further consideration by the Senate.
HB 291, Concurrent Enrollment Modifications by Rep. Mike Winder, clarifies legislation from the 2018 legislative session requiring the Board of Regents to establish policy, in coordination with higher education concurrent enrollment directors, that defines the qualifications to be an eligible concurrent enrollment instructor. Current instructors for the 2017-18 academic year will continue to be eligible regardless of qualifications. The bill received unanimous support of the House and awaits consideration by the Senate.
HB 346, Higher Education Responses to Allegations by Rep. Kim Coleman, outlines circumstances when an institution turns information over to law enforcement in instances considered an articulable and significant threat to campus safety. The bill also mandates that colleges offer amnesty from conduct-code violations for students, which USHE institutions already have in policy. The sponsor has worked during the interim with advocacy groups and USHE. The Board of Regents does not oppose the legislation and supports the sponsor’s efforts to address a critical component related to the overall campus safety issue. The bill received unanimous support of the House and awaits consideration in the Senate.
HB 442, Family Leave Amendments by Rep. Elizabeth Weight, requires public higher education institutions, along with state agencies, to offer paid parental leave to eligible employees. The University of Utah and Utah Valley University have adopted family leave policies in the few months. The bill awaits a House Committee hearing.
HB 454, Tuition Waiver and Scholarship Study by Rep. Melissa Ballard, requires the Board of Regents to study and report on outcomes of state scholarship and waiver programs including student retention, completion, and participation in Utah’s workforce. The bill awaits assignment to a House Standing Committee.
*SB 102 (1st Sub.), Higher Education Capital Facilities by Sen. Ann Millner, would create capital development project funds for state colleges and universities and another for technical colleges. It would also establish criteria for project funding. Currently, colleges and universities submit building proposals to the Board of Regents. The Regents prioritize the requests, and their list is proposed to the State Building Board, then to Legislature’s Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, and ultimately to the full legislature. The goal of the bill is to appropriate funding to colleges and universities for cost-effective building planning and design, while maintaining oversight for final approval of state-funded construction. This bill received unanimous support of the House Education Committee and awaits consideration of the full House.
*SB 164, Student Data Privacy Amendments by Sen. Jacob Anderegg, eliminates the requirement for individual parental consent for student information to be shared from K-12 schools to the Utah State Board of Regents for purposes of outreach and access. This barrier has led to significant challenges in student recruiting and outreach due to legislative action adopted three years ago. These barriers are recognized frustrations by both higher education and K-12 leaders. The bill received unanimous support of the Senate Education Committee and awaits consideration of the full Senate.
* USHE has taken an official position in support; ** USHE has taken an official position in opposition. For more information on legislation, committee agendas, or to view or listen to floor debates, see: http://le.utah.gov/