“We always tackle that issue, because it’s the largest area of our budget and it’s probably the number one issue with our constituents when we mail out mailers asking what’s the biggest issue, it’s always near the top.”
Hughes noted that there’s increased pressure this year because of the “Our Schools Now” group that wants voters, not lawmakers, to decide whether to hike income taxes to boost funding for schools. Hughes doesn’t think the income tax hike is the best way to increase funding.
“My concern about that is our income tax can be more volatile. If there’s interest in making that collaborative, I think we the people who are willing to do that.”
Hughes says boosting revenue for schools is not as easy as simply raising taxes.
“Just to do what we did last year for this coming year for our schools, I need $60 million for enrollment growth. I need $60 million in ongoing money just to fund exactly as we are this year, next year. Then, if I want to raise that weighted pupil unit, which is our funding formula per child, it costs $26 million per one percent. So, if we want to raise it 4%, that’s over $100 million. You could almost call that maintenance costs because the state is growing and we’re trying to keep pace. When you come to realize that taxpayers have to pay that much more just to stay where you are right now, that’s an incredible amount of pressure.”
Hughes also says there are signs that Utah’s economy may be slowing down a bit, which has his full attention.
“I think the economy is cyclical. I’ve lived through I’ve been here since January of 2003. I’ve seen recessions, surpluses, recessions, surpluses. It’s about that time. If you look at quarters of consecutive growth, we are at the time we should see that correction.”