Utah lawmakers and Our Schools Now are working on a possible deal to head off the ballot initiative to hike income and sales taxes as a way to boost funding for public schools.
House and Senate leaders tell UtahPolicy.com they have been negotiating with OSN for the last few weeks. One proposal under discussion includes a promise to add $300 million of new money into public education in each of the next three years.
There's also discussion of the legislature possibly adding an initiative to the 2018 ballot asking voters to approve a change in the state funding model to pull transportation money out of the general fund. Right now, general fund monies subsidize transportation to the tune of $600 million annually. Finding a way to put that money back into the general fund would immediately boost public school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.
So, why is a deal under discussion now?
"There are some on the Our Schools Now board who feel that their message for more school funding has been heard (by lawmakers), so they are ready to talk," said one source who spoke to UtahPolicy.com on the condition of anonymity.
UtahPolicy.com learned of the possible deal last week but was asked not to publish about it over concern it could harm the sensitive negotiations.
House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was one of the leaders who had been talking with OSN.
As of Friday, Wilson told UtahPolicy.com that there was no deal, although he hoped one could be reached.
UtahPolicy.com was told that OSN had made what was termed “an offer” to GOP legislative leaders on Friday. But Wilson said he had no knowledge of an official offer from the group.
“We are talking. Maybe something can happen over the weekend,” Wilson said Friday.
Meanwhile, a new UtahPolicy poll shows that while most Utahns favor OSN’s citizen petition, that majority is not large, just 54% are in favor, with 40% opposed. Support for OSN was just 50% in a UtahPolicy.com survey from November of last year.
While OSN is certainly well-financed and could run a thorough campaign to build support for the petition before November’s election, it is always tough to get voters to raise their own taxes, even for such a good cause as adding more than $700 million annually to school financing.
And GOP legislative leaders had warned UtahPolicy previously that if OSN failed at the ballot box, having voters reject a tax hike for schools would dampen any attempt by the Legislature to raise taxes for schools.
Time is running out for a deal as lawmakers have just four working days left in the 2018 legislature.