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Utah State CapitolThe old adage “strike while the iron is hot” may well apply to backers of a 7/8th of 1 percent increase in the state personal and corporate income tax rate for public education.

In a new survey for UtahPolicy, Dan Jones & Associates finds that more than two-thirds of Utahns favor such a tax hike for schools, grades K-12.

Majority support among the populace runs through all political parties and political persuasions.

But Utah legislators – by far most of them Republicans – are loath to raise any tax, no matter what public support may be.

And already GOP Gov. Gary Herbert – just off of a huge re-election win – says he will suggest no tax hikes in the 2017 Legislature.

GOP legislative leaders, after raising the gasoline tax a year ago, may not want to be at the forefront of a new tax hike – even a popular one – without the governor in front of them.

For some time now, various Jones polls for UtahPolicy have tracked majority support for a small tax hike for schools.

Now, in a new survey, Jones finds:

  • 67 percent of Utahns say they “strongly” or “somewhat” favor a 7/8th of a percent increase for public schools, both in the personal income tax and in the corporate income tax.

    Both tax rates are now at 5 percent and haven’t been changed in years.

  • 29 percent oppose such a tax hike.

  • And 4 percent don’t have an opinion.

 

Utah remains last in the nation in per-pupil funding of schools.

Yes – as Herbert said time and again in his re-election campaign against Democrat Mike Weinholtz (who advocated for a tax hike for schools) – Utah does get a big bang out of those education dollars – Utah’s high school graduation rate is up, kids at all levels do well on standardized tests compared to national results.

But Herbert’s new goal is to put Utah into the top 10 in the nation in K-12 education over the next few years.

And it is hard to see how that can happen if more money – along with new technology and better teachers – doesn’t come to be.

Jones finds that even Republicans and those who say they are “very conservative” politically support a 7/8th tax hike:

  • 64 percent of Republicans favor the tax increase for schools.

  • 32 percent oppose, and 4 percent of Republicans don’t know.

  • One would figure Democrats favor higher taxes for children’s education – and by 92-7 percent Democrats favor the increase. Only 2 percent of Democrats don’t have an opinion.

  • Political independents favor the hike, 63-30 percent; with 5 percent don’t know.

    Even 52 percent of those who told Jones they are “very conservative” favor a 7/8th percent income tax hike.

  • 42 percent of the “very conservative” don’t like such an increase; and 6 percent don’t know.

Finally, around 60 percent of Utahns are members of the Mormon Church.

And Mormons are family and education centric – they push those ideals in the home.

Jones finds that 68 percent of those who said they are “very active” in the LDS faith support the 7/8th increase.

Such a tax increase is favored by several civic and business groups, including Education First.

As reported previously by UtahPolicy, Education First leaders are considering either asking the 2017 Legislature to put such a tax hike question on the 2018 ballot, or running a referendum initiative themselves to put the question on the ballot.

If those ballot results reflect Jones’ poll numbers, then the governor and/or Legislature – with that kind of citizen backing – would be better positioned politically to raise the personal and corporate income tax rate for public education in the state.

It could also be that Education First – or some broader-range group – could put the tax hike directly on the 2018 ballot via citizen initiative petition – and let citizens themselves raise their own taxes, if they wish.

Such petition drives are expensive, however.

The Count My Vote initiative folks back in 2014 were ready to spend upwards of $1 million to get their initiative on the ballot and approved by voters.

In any case, two-thirds support for an education tax hike must look good to school backers, even this early in the public debate.

Jones polled 818 adults from Oct. 12-20. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.43 percent.