Lawmakers take aim at proposal to hike income taxes for public schools

Utah State CapitolYou just knew there was going to be some GOP legislative blowback this session to the Our Schools Now citizen initiative petition, aimed at voters raising their own personal income taxes.

And here it is.

Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has introduced HB255, which would change petition-gathering law to say that in cases of tax hikes, the petition one signs must say in clear writing the PERCENT increase of the tax hike proposal.

In addition, the new bill would require that on the general election ballot, over the section where you vote on such a tax hike, would be printed that voting yes means you are raising taxes by that certain percentage.

Now, which sounds better to you:

— Raise your income tax rate from 5 percent to 5 and 7/8th percent, or a 7/8th of a percent increase?

— Or raise your income tax rate by 17.5 percent?

Of course, if you were trying to sell an income tax hike to voters, you would want to say you were raising the tax by 7/8th of a percent, or from 5 to 5.875, not by 17.5 percent.

A 17.5 percent tax hike sounds like a considerable increase.

Both calculations are correct, actually.

It is the perception in the numbers that McCay and other opponents to Our Schools Now are looking at.

And counting on (pun intended).

McCay (and no doubt all of the GOP senators and representatives who are against OSN) would like voters to see the 17.5 percent number on the petitions they must sign to get the measure on the ballot in 2018, and on the ballots, before they cast a vote.

(McCay did not attend Friday’s legislative session, and UtahPolicy was unable to contact him for comment.)

McCay’s bill says you must show the percentage increase rounded off to the nearest 1/1000th.

If my little Radio Shack calculator – still working after all these years – is correct, going from 5 percent to 5.875 is 17.500 percent, or just 17.5 – a nice number people can remember.

Our Schools Now have considerable evidence to show that Utah is falling behind in public school spending.

We are in last place nationally in per-student spending.

And a new Utah Foundation study shows that the state is down $1.2 billion a year in funding, compared to what we would have been had not any number of personal income tax “reforms” taken place over the last 20 years.

An increase in the tax rate from 5 percent to 5.875 percent would bring in an extra $750 million a year to public schools.

And the petition will say most of that money would be earmarked for individual neighborhood schools.

Some of the larger high schools in the state could see $2 million extra a year under OSN.

And polling done by UtahPolicy and other groups – (yes, the question was worded 5 percent to 5.875 or 7/8th of a percent, as the petition would have required before HB255) — shows majority support for the tax hike.

 But critics of Our School Now and of the polling that has been done say if citizens knew the increase was 17.5 percent, fewer would be for it.

McCay’s HB255, of course, couldn’t tell OSN what they could say in their public campaign (that is freedom of speech), but it would at least put the 17.5 percent in big letters on the petitions OSN would be circulating.

And just maybe, some Utahns wouldn’t sign the petitions if they saw that big number in front of them.