Support for the Our Schools Now tax hikes for public education has fallen, just as the group begins its citizen initiative petition drive that, if adopted by voters next November, would raise around $700 million a year for Utah’s cash-starved school system, a new poll by UtahPolicy.com finds.
The results may be expected, as Utah GOP lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert have been speaking against the proposed tax increases recently.
The new Dan Jones & Associates survey shows that 48 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” support increasing the state sales tax by 0.45 percentage points and increase the state’s personal income tax by a similar 0.45 percentage point.
Forty-nine percent now oppose the proposed tax increase, while 3 percent don’t know.
Back in January – when the OSN proposal was a 7/8th of 1 percentage point hike in just the personal income tax – Jones found that 67 percent of Utahns favored the change.
Since that time, OSN leaders have met extensively with Herbert and GOP legislative leaders, and agreed to split the proposed tax increase between the state sales tax (much favored by the Republicans) and the personal state income tax.
Even though OSN-backers have modified their petition to include the GOP-requested sales tax increase, the Republican state leaders still oppose the petition.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, recently told UtahPolicy that GOP legislative leaders don’t anticipate doing anything in January’s 2018 Legislature to try to stave off the OSN petition.
He says in an election year there will not be the GOP support to raise any taxes for schools – and even if some lawmakers wanted to, they couldn’t find support to raise the $700 million the petition would do.
So rather than beat heads to raise $50 million or $100 million for schools, GOP lawmakers will just sit this one out and see what OSN can do with voters later in 2018.
Herbert has overseen a $1 billion influx of taxpayer money (natural revenue growth without raising tax rates) into the public schools budget in recent years, yet Utah remains last in the nation in per-student spending.
And Utah classrooms remain some of the most crowded in the nation, as study after study shows Utah students’ achievement in several education areas continues to drop.
Because of various tax changes over two decades, a Utah Foundation study found more than $1.2 billion a year has fallen out of school budgets.
So if Utahns approve the OSN petition next November, schools would still be getting around half of what would have come if lawmakers hadn’t given tax cuts and exemptions over the last 20 years.
Jones finds that it is mainly Republicans who have turned against the proposed tax hike:
— Now 57 percent of rank-and-file Republicans oppose the OSN petition, only 38 percent support it.
— Democrats like the proposal, 75-24 percent.
— While political independents are split – 52 percent oppose, 47 percent approve.
Younger Utahns, who have just gotten out of public education and whose small children are in it, like the petition:
— Those 18-24-year-olds support OSN, 52-44 percent.
— Those 25-34 support it, 58-40 percent.
While those who no longer have kids in public schools oppose it:
— Those 55-64 years old are against the proposed tax hikes, 58-39 percent.
— And those 65 years old and older don’t like it, 53-44 percent.
Historically, Utah Mormons have large families with lots of kids to educate. But they are also conservative in their politics.
Jones finds that among those who self-identified as “very active” in their LDS faith, 50 percent oppose the tax hikes, 46 percent approve.
Those who said they are “somewhat” active in their Mormon faith, and those who were once Mormons, but have left the faith, both oppose the tax hikes by small margins, while those of other faiths support the tax increases.
Those who said they don’t have any religion really support the tax hikes, 63-36 percent.
The Our Schools Now organizers are now conducting public hearings and preparing to gather the 113,000 voter signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot.
Later, like next summer and fall, OSN will be running a public education campaign which could well turn around the dropping numbers seen in Jones’ latest survey.
Jones polled 608 adults from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.97 percent.