Saying the disadvantaged in Utah are faring worse than ever before, advocates for the poor Sunday unveiled an "alternate budget" that could generate an additional $112 million in funding for human services.
The proposed financing is based on a mixture of tax increases and decreases, including the elimination of the federal income-tax deduction, a new tax on professional services, a hike in the corporate franchise and severance taxes, and reductions in sales taxes.While acknowledging that the Legislature is not likely to embrace the plan intact, the human-services advocates suggested that even partial implementation will help the state cope with a deteriorating situation.
"It would be safe to say that we are doing worse than last year," said Shirley Weathers, research director for Utah Issues. She cited increased needs reported by food banks, homeless shelters and state human services agencies, and she said that a growing number of layoffs probably will swell the ranks of those in need.
At the same time, most new human-services funding requests have "ended up on the state budget cutting room floor," said Weathers. "Without a change in this trend, the number of troubled lives will increase, some lives will even be threatened, and we will pay a much higher cost in the future."
Utah Issues Director Bill Walsh said the tax measures give the state the means to address the problem while it is still manageable. If adopted, the proposed human-services budget would be $68 million more than the governor has requested for health and social programs.The budget plan would eliminate the constitutional earmarking of revenues to the Uniform School Fund, which Walsh said would result in greater budgetary flexibility. It would also spread and index state income tax brackets - which Walsh said have not been adjusted since 1973 - to benefit low- and middle-income taxpayers.
A tax on services provided by attorneys, accountants, medical professionals and others would generate about $200 million, which would be offset by a $100 million tax loss from an elimination of the sales tax on food and a $70 million reduction (0.5 percent) in the general sales tax. A 1 percent increase in the corporate franchise tax would raise $18.6 million, and the severance tax would bring in $7.6 million.
Also, the human-services advocates propose increases in the cigarette, liquor and beer taxes, arguing that those products impact social and health programs and should help pay the cost.
The alternate budget's bottom line shows $86 million in additional funding for the state and $26 million for local governments.
Weathers said the money is needed to fund a variety of protection, prevention and self-sufficiency programs and to enhance the quality and efficiency of human services agencies.
Putting more money into self-sufficiency would be a "wonderful, positive investment" because it would help remove people from the welfare rolls and ultimately reduce state costs, she said. Adding funds to substance abuse and mental health efforts would also cut future expenditures, she said.
Utah Issues spokesman Steve Erickson said, "When the poor among us do better, all of us do better. Everybody benefits."
And he said the proposed budget distributes the immediate financial burden. "There is a way to do it, if the will is there."
Joe Duke-Rosati of the Salt Lake Community Action Program said he and the others recognize how difficult it will be to shepherd their proposals through the 1991 Legislature. "We live in the real world," he said. "We are aware that this is controversial, but we also are aware of the human needs."
While no lawmaker has agreed to sponsor the entire plan, several are backing specific elements, said Duke-Rosati.
"This is partly an education process," added Erickson. "It may take three years or longer, but we believe we will have the opportunity to discuss all of the proposals at the Legislature."