Every two years, Better Utah Institute provides an educational guide to the constitutional amendments, statewide initiatives, and other questions that Utahns will be asked to vote on during the election. In 2022, there will be one proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Constitutional Amendment A
This proposed constitutional amendment would increase the amount of money that the Utah State Legislature can spend during an emergency special session from 1% of the previous year’s budget to 5%. It would also exempt emergency federal funding and any appropriations that decrease total spending for the year from the limit on how much can be spent or cut.
This proposed change to the Utah Constitution would increase the amount that the Utah State Legislature could spend or cut during a special session convened by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. It would raise the limit on additional funds that the Legislature can spend during a self-called special session from 1% to 5%. The amendment clarifies that the limit on spending does not apply to budget cuts or to money that the federal government sends to Utah to respond to a fiscal, public health, or other emergency crisis.
This amendment would only apply to special sessions convened by the Legislature itself, leaving unchanged the power of the Governor to call the Legislature into special session without budgetary limits.
In 2018, Utah voters approved an amendment to the Utah Constitution that allowed the Utah State Legislature to call itself into emergency special sessions, when convened by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. Because these special sessions were supposed to be called for emergencies, the amendment limited the amount of money that lawmakers could spend or cut during these special sessions to up to 1% of the total amount lawmakers spent the previous year.
In 2020, the Utah State Legislature made use of this newly granted power to call itself into special session to deal with budget and policy issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The amount of money that lawmakers needed to spend on pandemic response soon surpassed the 1% budget limit, especially with the huge amounts of money from the federal government they needed to accept and spend. For example, in the year before the pandemic, lawmakers had spent around $20 billion dollars, which allowed them to spend or cut up to $200 million during a special session, much less than the $2.1 billion given to the state at one point by the federal government to respond to the pandemic. Lawmakers were only able to accept and spend these federal funds by having the Governor call the Legislature into special session because the spending limits are only applicable to when the Legislature calls itself into special session.
Lawmakers proposed this amendment to the Utah Constitution to give themselves increased flexibility to respond to the financial needs of emergencies during special sessions. The proposed amendment, H.J.R. 12, passed the Utah Senate unanimously and passed the Utah House of Representatives 68-5.
Arguments in Favor
Bill sponsors Representative Last (R) and Senator Stevenson (R) argued that the demands on the Legislature during the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated a need for increased flexibility for appropriations, justifying the increase from 1% to 5%. As it currently stands, the Governor is the sole individual who has the power to call the legislature into special session once the legislature has surpassed their 1% cap. Representatives Schultz (R) and Briscoe (D) spoke in favor of the amendment during floor debates.
Representative Robertson (R) raised concerns about such a drastic increase from 1% to 5%, drawing attention to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that each percentage point represents. Senator McCay (R) raised similar questions about the need for a 5-time increase in appropriations.
- House Government Operations Committee Hearing
- House Government Operations Committee Vote (8-0-3)
- House Floor Debate
- House Floor Vote (68-5-2)
- Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Hearing
- Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Vote (7-0-1)
- Senate Floor Debate
- Senate Floor Vote (29-0-0)
- Balllotpedia: Utah Emergency Sessions Appropriation Limits Amendment (2022)