School funding is sure to be a hot topic during the 2017 Utah Legislature. That’s mostly because of a threat by an outside group to put an income tax hike on next year’s ballot which would significantly boost funding for Utah’s schools.
The “Our Schools Now” group is pushing the 7/8ths of one percent income tax hike, which they say would provide an additional $750 million annually for Utah’s public schools. Surprisingly, House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King says he’s not entirely thrilled with the “Our Schools Now” proposal, but it’s better than no funding increase at all.
“Democrats have, for years, talked about the need for more funding for education and more new revenue for public education, and we continue to believe that’s true,” said King. “I think most Democrats would prefer to see something more progressive in nature. That it is, just to say that we’re going to raise the single rate we have from 5 to 5 7/8ths is unduly difficult for working class families.”
“I think Utahns recognize that the average Utahn says ‘We want to spend more on our kids,” and the average state legislator says ‘I don’t.’ That’s troubling to me.”
King says he expects lawmakers to try and find some extra money for schools this session to seek to head off the “Our Schools Now” proposal, much like they did when they reached a compromise with the “Count My Vote” group a few years ago. However, King says whatever lawmakers come up with won’t generate as much money as OSN wants.
But, King also thinks the “Our Schools Now” group should be very careful about taking their issue to the ballot in 2018.
“The last thing you want is for that initiative to hit the ballot in 2018 and have it go down to defeat. That would send a horrible message about funding for public education to the legislature. It would embolden people who want to starve public education here. It would damage the prospects for future, greater funding for public education to a very significant degree.”
In the end, King hopes lawmakers do find a way to increase funding for schools this year.
“This is the practical reality that we have to deal with. We have a state with relatively large families. It costs a lot of money to educate our kids. The reality is, we have always done what is necessary up until the last 20-30 years to make sure our kids were taken care of. Utah has never lagged as badly regarding how we spend for our kids in the last 20-30 years. Our share of what burden we place on taxpayers in terms of public education has fallen. It used to be quite high in terms of how we committed public resources to public education, and it’s fallen, and now we’re in the bottom tier.”