Although Utah lawmakers will probably do something in the 2018 Session to try and boost school funding, they’re admitting it won’t be enough to stop the Our Schools Now ballot initiative from going forward.
“We’re operating under the assumption that Our Schools Now will get their proposal on the ballot next year,” said President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.
UtahPolicy.com has learned that some lawmakers are considering legislation to boost school funding next year in an attempt to try and make the Our Schools Now tax hikes less appealing to voters.
Niederhauser says he hasn’t been privy to any of those discussions, but he doesn’t think there’s much lawmakers can do, especially when OSN is hoping to boost school funding by an estimated $700 million per year if their initiative passes.
“I’d like to think there’s something we haven’t thought of before that will generate more money, but there isn’t,” said Niederhauser.
Our Schools Now is proposing an increase in income and sales taxes to boost the financial fortunes of schools dramatically. That money would be allocated on a per-pupil basis. Some smaller elementary schools could see an increase of around a half-million per year, while larger high schools could take in about $2 million annually. The schools would be able to determine how that money is spent. For instance, schools could decide to spend the money on classroom technology or hiring more classroom aides.
Polling shows that Utahns mostly support the Our Schools Now initiative, but opponents are betting that Utahns will be loathe to raise their own taxes once they get into the voting booth next year.
Niederhauser did float the possibility that lawmakers could raise gas taxes again next year to put more money into roads, which could free up more money for education. However, that won’t come anywhere near the money Our Schools Now is promising for schools.
“Next year is an election year, and finding money for huge increases in education funding will be a challenge,” says Niederhauser.
There has been some talk of lawmakers possibly cutting a deal with Our Schools Now to boost funding to schools in exchange for them dropping the initiative before it goes to the ballot.
Niederhauser says that’s probably not going to happen.
“We’re so far apart on what they want and what we can give,” he said. “Even for us to come to the middle, it would be a very hard time getting there.”