Poll: Most Utahns say Utah’s schools need more funding

Two-thirds of Utahns believe more tax money is needed for public schools, a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows.

And Dan Jones & Associates also finds that among those who want more taxes for education, by far most favor a mix of tax hikes – including property, state sales and personal and corporate income taxes.

Our Schools Now, a group of education and business leaders, are in the process of getting a citizen initiative petition on the November 2018 ballot, asking Utahns to raise their own taxes in support of public schools, most of the money slated for neighborhood public institutions.

OSN originally planned to ask for an increase in the personal income tax rate of 5 percentage points to 5.875 points — raising $750 million annually.

But now OSN leaders are considering requests from GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican legislators to either target only the state sales tax – just over 6 percent in Salt Lake County – or have a mix of tax hikes.

And in Jones’ latest survey for UtahPolicy, that mix is favored by 68 percent of Utahns.

Jones finds:

  • 67 percent of Utahns says more taxes are needed for public schools.
  • 26 percent disagree, saying “no” to any tax hikes for schools, and 7 percent don’t know.

Jones polled 844 adults on the above question.

Among those who said “yes” to more taxes for schools (565 people):

  • 4 percent said they wanted property taxes on homes, apartments and businesses to go up.
  • 9 percent said they wanted the state sales tax to increase.
  • 11 percent said they wanted personal and corporate income taxes to go up.
  • 68 percent favor a mix of those taxes raised.
  • And 8 percent didn’t know which taxes should go up.


So, while OSN have a large majority who favor tax hikes for schools (67 percent), it is also clear their chances of getting a tax hike approved on the November 2018 ballot would greatly be enhanced if they brought not just an income tax hike to voters, but some kind of mix of tax hikes.

Herbert and GOP legislative leaders don’t now support a state personal income tax increase for schools.

They argue the state’s booming economy – one of the best in the nation – maybe be harmed if business bosses have to pay higher taxes, and may look elsewhere to expand their operations.

Nolan Karras, a former Utah House GOP speaker and candidate for governor in 2004, is a leader/spokesperson for Our Schools Now.

He has told UtahPolicy that various state GOP officeholders are pressuring the group – co-chaired by Gail Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz and dozens of car dealerships – to look at a mix of taxes for their petition drive.

OSN have tentatively scheduled the fall to start collecting the 120,000 or so voter signatures needed to get their measure on the ballot. We will know then exactly what the proposed tax increases will look like.

Jones finds that across the demographic board there is support for increased taxes for public schools.

However, with one notable exception – those who self-identified to Jones that they are “very conservative” politically.

Among that group, 43 percent support greater taxes for schools, while 52 percent oppose, and 5 percent don’t know.

And therein lies a tale of why the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature – and indeed Herbert and previous Republican governors — have been resistant to raise taxes for schools.

After all, Utah remains dead last in the nation in per-student spending for public education – a sadly disappointing statistic that has gone on for decades.

If two-thirds of Utahns – and even 62 percent of Utah Republicans – want to increase taxes for schools, why won’t these GOP governors and lawmakers do it?

Simple answer: They fear the power of county and state Republican Party delegates, who vote on their re-election efforts and who are overwhelmingly “very conservative,” various studies of delegates over the years show.

In an effort to moderate the influence of “very conservative” delegates, a separate group – Count My Vote – was readying a 2014 citizen ballot initiative petition that would have taken away the power of delegates to select party nominees – and having the only way for a candidate to get on a primary ballot to be collecting voter signatures from their party members.

But CMV-backers compromised with the 2014 Republican Legislature – SB54 allowing a dual candidate route, signatures, convention delegates, or both at the same time.

Now the Utah House has all but agreed to repeal SB54; with the GOP-controlled Senate being the hold out.

If SB54 is gutted or repealed, the will reflected in the new poll that two-thirds of Utahns want tax hikes for schools could well be opposed by future Legislatures – fearing the backlash of the 52 percent of “very conservative” Utahns who have disproportional influence among Republican party delegates.

Some other demographic numbers in the new Jones poll:

  • Republicans favor higher taxes for schools, 62-32 percent.
  • Democrats favor more school spending, 87-6 percent.
  • Political independents favor school tax hikes, 75-19 percent.
  • Those who said they are “somewhat conservative” in their politics favor more school spending, 66-28 percent.
  • Moderates say “yes,” 76-15 percent.
  • Those who are “somewhat liberal,” 88-7 percent.
  • And those who said they are “very liberal,” 87-6 percent.

Besides having GOP supermajorities in the Utah House and Senate, most legislators are faithful members of the LDS Church, which has long backed an educated populace.

Jones finds that 65 percent of those who classified themselves as “very active” in the Mormon Church support more tax money for schools; 29 percent of good Mormons say “no” new money for schools, while 6 percent don’t know.

And Jones finds the higher level of education one has, the more one supports more tax money for schools:

  • High school graduates support more money, 64-26 percent.
  • Those with a two-year associate or technical degree, 59-33 percent in favor of higher school taxes.
  • Four-year college degree, 67-27 percent.
  • And those with a post-graduate degree, like a lawyer or PhD, 79-18 percent.

Jones polled 844 adults from March 22-29, with a margin of error statewide of plus or minus 3.37 percent.