Proposition 1

Proposition 1 is an oddity: it’s not actually a proposition, it’s an opinion poll. The vote is nonbinding, and doesn’t implement any policy, it just gives legislators a sense of the desire of the state. Here’s the text:

To provide additional funding for public education and local roads, should the state increase the state motor and special fuel tax rates by an equivalent of 10 cents per gallon?”

The first question to ask about any planned expenditure: is this an activity that the state should be involved in at all? Well, schools are mandated by the state constitution, and since there’s no amendment on the table currently then yes, they require adequate funding. And the government is responsible for road construction and maintenance at this time as well, so again, adequate funding is required.

The second question to ask is, is this proposal constitutional? In this case, it is of questionable constitutionality. The Utah state constitution very specifically limits the use of fuel tax to road construction, maintenance, and some very directly related expenses such as engineering and design of the roads, acquisition of rights of way, and “driver education” – by which it means road signage, not the training you get in high school. It would be a violation of the state constitution to use fuel tax revenue to pay for anything else.

So the only way this could be an acceptable idea is if the state was putting money from the general fund into road construction and maintenance over and above the amount collected through fuel taxes and vehicle licensing fees. But it isn’t. In fact, the last time the fuel tax was raised (just three years ago!), it was because of a supposed shortfall – but it turned out that was a clerical error, and 50 million dollars in fuel taxes had been erroneously placed in the wrong account. Our current fuel tax is adequate to pay for the current levels of road construction and maintenance.

So far, a big no. but there’s one more thing. In regard to school funding, this proposal includes nothing about how the money would be spent – not one word. That’s a recipe for waste.

Do I want to see my taxes increased so school administrators can be paid more, or travel to more conferences? No. Do I want my taxes increased so that school districts can replace football stadiums? No. Would I consider paying more so that teachers aren’t buying school supplies out of their own pockets? Well, maybe, but I’d rather take a look at how money is being spent now and change our priorities to see that the things that are important are being paid for first, not last.

So, that’s my take on Proposition 1. Do we want our roads maintained, and our schools adequately funded? Sure. But throwing money at things, without a specific, exact plan for spending, is foolhardy. I will be voting NO on Proposition 1, and I hope you will too.