Could the GOP, Mormon, teetotaling Legislature actually go for this?
The House on Thursday killed HB271, an attempt by Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, to give 25 percent of state liquor profits to public education for just one year.
The bill failed 33-39. It is the second time that the House has voted down the bill and with a week left in the session it is now likely dead.
Bird, who has several innovative public education funding bills this session, said there is a $6.4 billion “hole” in public education funding needs that have built up over recent years, and HB271 is just one way to get $21 million in one-time funds to public schools.
The bill doesn’t raise liquor taxes and/or markups. It would just take a quarter of liquor profits for the fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015 years and reallocate them from the General Fund and put them into the Weighted Pupil Unit.
The WPU is the basic school funding formula the Legislature provides to the 41 individual school districts.
House budget chairman Mel Brown, R-Kamas, said it is bad policy to “earmark” special monies into general programs and just as bad to set the budget via legislation, rather than in the appropriations process.
As part of the debate, Bird referred to a TV ad now running that shows Zions Bank president Scott Anderson saying Utah has done well doing more with less in public education. But funding has not kept up with need, and now Utah is “just doing less” for public schools.
The ad also shows – in two different versions – House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, and Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, on-camera saying Utahns should call their legislators to talk about public education.
“We will listen,” both men say.
Listen maybe, but not raise any more money for public schools outside of natural revenue growth.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, chastised lawmakers for being unwilling to raise income taxes for public schools. The Utah Constitution says all corporate and personal income taxes will go to public and higher education.
King had a bill, HB225, which have raised $114 million a year from Utah’s wealthier citizens by raising income taxes. It died in a House committee on a straight-line party vote, King said.
People making over $250,000 would pay a 6 percent state tax rate, instead of the current flat-rate tax of 5 percent for all taxpayers.
HB271 “is a way to immediately do something for public education,” said King. The bill may be a “crappy funding measure; it is inferior. But at least we should be doing it, sadly.”
King asked his fellow GOP lawmakers (most who voted “no” were Republicans) what they were going to say to their constituents when they asked after the session what the 2013 Legislature did for public education funding.
Interestingly enough, two House Democrats voted against the extra funding for education: Reps. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; and Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray; usually both strong education supporters.
But 38 votes are needed for passage of any bill, and even if those two had voted for it, the bill still would have failed with only 35 “yes” votes.
Several Republicans said it is wrong to fund public education with liquor money.
Said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, “The very thing you are trying to prevent (people drinking) now your depend upon for funding? This would be a huge compromise in principle. This contradicts our values.”
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said HB271 would fund schools from an “unseemly, not proper,” source.
But, of course, the state is using liquor profits in many other state programs supported out of the General Fund, and how is that any different just because some would go to schools, the bill's supporters said.