Utahns face decisions on two proposed amendments to the state constitution on this year's election ballot. Constitutional Amendment A would require that a fixed portion of severance tax revenues be placed in the state's permanent trust fund. We urge rejection of that amendment. Constitutional Amendment B would give members of the military on active duty out of state a break on their property taxes. We urge support of that amendment.
• Severance taxes are imposed on businesses that extract oil, natural gas or minerals (but not coal) from beneath land within the state. The total raised over the past 10 years, excluding revenues reserved for Indian tribes, amount to about $70 million annually. The bulk of the money is deposited into the general fund to pay for government services and operations.
A previous constitutional amendment, passed by voters in 2008, allows the Legislature to set aside a portion of severance tax revenues in the permanent trust. Earnings from that fund are then deposited into the general fund.
Current law requires that revenues above $105 million annually be deposited in the trust. In 2009, some $23 million went into the trust. But the proponents of Amendment A say that requirement is not enough. They want a fixed percentage of the annual take to go into the trust, so that it can be built more quickly as a permanent endowment.
The amendment would require that 25 percent of the first $50 million, 50 percent of the next $50 million, and 75 percent of anything beyond $100 million, go into the trust. Based on current amounts and assumptions, that would stash about $36 million in the trust annually. By 2044, the amount earned by the trust and deposited into the general fund would exceed the amount deposited into the trust annually.
The idea is to create a permanent benefit from nonrenewable resources. That part is a good idea, but hamstringing the Legislature and governor with a permanent earmark in the constitution is not. They already can put away severance tax money in the trust, but under this amendment the earmark would be untouchable unless the governor and three-quarters of each house of the Legislature all agree to override it. That straitjackets budget flexibility, even in an emergency.
• Constitutional Amendment B would allow an exemption from property tax for a primary home owned by a person in the military if the person served out of state on federal active duty at least 200 days in a year. Given the economic pressures on military families, this one is a no-brainer. Vote for it.