Poll: Republicans Oppose Tax Hike for Education

Utahns do not favor increasing the state personal income tax by 1 percentage point, the money going toward greater public education funding in the state.

A new UtahPolicy poll shows that as of now 54 percent of registered voters don’t like the education tax hike proposed by Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan.

Draxler, who has sat on a special education reform task force for two years, says the state has been underfunding public education for years, and it is time to take a major step forward on education funding.

Utah remains last place in the nation in per-student funding. And in recent years high school graduation rates have dipped.

There is one broad-based business/education group – Education First — that has already called for greater education funding in the 2015 Legislature. But that group has not as of yet given a detailed revenue proposal.

It’s fiscal 2016 budget plan, however, calls for around $90 million more for public education and $60 million more for high education.

In a Dan Jones & Associates survey for UtahPolicy, Jones found that while 54 percent oppose Draxler’s income tax hike, 43 percent support it. Three percent didn’t know.

The survey was conducted Dec. 2-10 of 609 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.97 percent.

The results are a bit of a change from past Jones surveys, which showed over recent years that by a slim majority most Utahns would support a tax hike for education if the new revenues were dedicated to neighborhood schools.

You can read Draxler’s income tax hike bill, HB54, here. Since the 2015 session has not yet started, there is no fiscal note on this legislation yet.

Draxler is quoted in one of his local newspapers as saying a 1 percentage point increase (from 5 percent to 6r percent) in the personal income tax will cost the average Utah family of four $575 more each year, but will bring into the state’s Education Fund around $585 million annually.

He wants 75 percent of that increase – or $438 million – earmarked for performance-based pay increases for teachers, and 25 percent for classroom technology, like computers or tablets for students and teachers.

The 2015 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 26, finds itself with a huge revenue surplus – around $630 million.

Much of that comes in fiscal 2015-2016, which starts July 1, as the state’s economy continues to grow.

The rest comes in revenue surplus from last fiscal year and the current fiscal year.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, in his proposed spending plan for next year, wants to pump into public education around $500 million, coming both in new revenue growth and in one-time revenue surpluses.

Herbert’s budget does NOT include an income tax hike for public education.

And faced with near-record tax surpluses and growth, it is unlikely the Republican-dominated Legislature will vote for a general tax hike for schools this year.

Indeed, GOP leaders in both the House and Senate have told UtahPolicy they don’t see a general tax hike – even for a popular program like public education – this coming session.

Jones finds that opinions on Draxler’s tax increase is sharply defined by political party:

— Utah rank-and-file Republicans oppose a 1 percentage point increase for education, 60-38 percent.

— Utah Democrats favor such a tax hike, 66-33 percent.

— And political independents, those who don’t below to any political party, are split: 50 percent oppose such a tax hike, 46 percent support it.

Usually, Jones doesn’t find much of a difference in poll responses between men and women.

But there is a real difference on this question of a tax increase for schools.

Women are evenly split on the issue, 48 percent oppose an education tax increase, 47 percent support it.

Men oppose such a tax hike, 59-39 percent.

When asking questions about public education it is often interesting to see the opinions of those who have recently left our schools – younger Utahns.

Jones finds that among those who are 18 to 24 years old, 58 percent support a 1 percentage point tax increase for schools, 31 percent oppose.

Among those 25 to 34 years old, 48 percent support such a tax hike, 46 percent oppose.

Likewise, the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she supports such a tax hike.

Jones found that those with a high school, technical school, or a bachelor’s college diploma oppose a tax hike by varying degrees, but those with a college graduate or professional degree support Draxler’s bill, 53-46 percent.