Poll: Utahns narrowly support ballot question on raising gas tax to boost education funding

By a narrow margin, most Utahns support a November ballot nonbinding measure that would ask the state Legislature to raise the state gasoline tax 10 cents per gallon, with the understanding the new money would go to public education, a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds:

  • 52 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the gas tax hike for education.
  • 43 percent oppose it.
  • And 5 percent don’t know.

You can’t vote “don’t know” on the ballot, so GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and the Republican-controlled Legislature will get a clear up or down gas tax hike opinion in the election.

It will then be up to the 2019 Legislature and governor to decide if the gas tax hike is actually made.

And regardless of what citizens want in the ballot, lawmakers and/or Herbert could say no.

Recently, Gov. Gary Herbert suggested the state may not need to boost the gas tax rate because of an expected windfall of tens of millions of dollars to the state budget because of a Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales taxes on online sales. However, Herbert backed away from that stance after estimates showed the expected sales tax money would fall far short of the money needed for school funding.

Currently, lawmakers put millions of dollars a year of sales tax into the Transportation Fund – because the per-gallon gas tax doesn’t provide nearly enough money for roads.

If the gas tax is increased, fewer sales taxes will go into the road fund, meaning there is more of it to spend on education.

That’s the legislators’ plan – make those using the roads pay more for the upkeep and new road construction.

But the new Jones poll shows a bare majority for the plan.


In fact, Utah rank-and-file Republicans are against it:

  • 52 percent of Republicans oppose the gas tax hike for education
  • 45 percent are for it.
  • And 4 percent don’t know.

Democrats really like the plan:

  • 76 percent for, only 17 percent against, and 7 percent don’t know.
  • Political independents, who don’t belong to any political party, favor the tax hike for schools, 51-43 percent, with 5 percent don’t know.

Jones finds a significant gender gap on this question:

  • Women favor the gas tax hike for schools, 58-35 percent.
  • But men oppose it, 51-45 percent.

Historically, Utah women have more to do with their children’s education than do men.

Those recently in Utah’s public schools – the 18-to-24 year olds, support that gas tax hike for education, 53-34 percent.

Their parents – or those ages 55-64 – oppose that gas tax hike, 53-44 percent.

While those with just a high school degree are split, 48 percent for, 45 percent against.

And those with a post-college degree – like lawyers, doctors, Master’s or PhD – favor the gas tax hike for schools, 63-34 percent.

The gas tax hike was a key component to the Legislature’s agreement with the Our Schools Now citizen initiative petition group: OSN dropped their petition effort, which if approved by voters would have raised the personal income tax and sales tax slightly to pump an extra $700 million a year into schools.

With the higher gas tax, along with promises to increase school spending each year for at least three years, lawmakers and Herbert agreed to put around $300 million more into schools annually – less than OSN-backers wanted.

Now comes the extra sales tax on online sales – which happened in the June Supreme Court decision – months after the OSN deal with lawmakers in March.

OSN, which is backed by some of Utah’s biggest names and wealthiest individuals and firms, pledged to spend some money in a pro-gas-tax campaign before the election, although we’ve not seen that spending yet.

So, is the OSN/gas tax hike still binding on Herbert and GOP lawmakers – should voters approve it in November?

The bottom-line deal was to get the $300 million into schools.

 Now, how that’s done by Herbert and the 2019 Legislature could be in play.

Jones polled 615 adults from May 15-25. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percent.