Poll: What Do Utahns Want Lawmakers to Focus on During 2015 Session?

Making sure Utah’s children can properly read by the third grade is the top issue state residents want the 2015 Legislature to address, a new poll shows.

Dan Jones & Associates asked 715 registered voters to rank – in order of importance – 10 issues that lawmakers will grapple with during their 45-day general session, which starts today in the State Capitol.

The poll was conducted for the pre-legislative conference sponsored by the Exoro Group, a public policy consulting firm, and Zions Bank.

The survey’s questions were written by Utah State University political science and policy professors, and conducted by Jones Dec. 22-Jan.10. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.66 percent.

UtahPolicy was given the poll results to publish after the conference.

Without getting into great statistical detail, Jones calculates a mean score for each of the 10 questions, the higher the mean, the more respondents placed that issue at the top of their list for lawmakers to deal with over the next 45 days.

Third-graders knowing how to read at an appropriate level was tops on the list with a mean score of 4.28.

Descending in order of importance were:

  • Investing in education grades K-12, 4.21.
  • Preparing high school students for a career, 4.00.
  • Developing the state’s energy resources, 3.71.
  • Investing in public colleges and universities, 3.57.
  • Implementing salary hikes for teachers, based on performance criteria, 3.55.
  • Improving air quality, 3.43.
  • Investing in mass transit, 3.11.
  • Expanding Medicaid, 2.74.
  • Relocating the prison, 2.10.

It’s interesting that two of the major upcoming political fights got the lowest scores of importance by citizens: Gov. Gary Herbert’s Medicaid expansion program Healthy Utah and moving the state’s prison are considered real hot button issues by lawmakers.

But citizens have little interest in either – at least when compared with other “important” problems that should be addressed.

It is not unusual to see three public school issues – reading by youngsters, school budgets and high school curriculum – as the top three issues.

But energy develop jumps ahead of Utah public colleges and university funding – not doubt a disappointment for higher education advocates.

In fact, the 2015 Legislature is shaping up to be the session of public education.

Herbert, a Republican, suggests to the GOP-dominated House and Senate that $500 million of new money be spent on schools and children next year.

That is record public education growth.

The Weighted Pupil Unit, the state’s basic school funding formula, should go up by 6.5 percent, says the governor.

And Herbert wants to remove sales tax earmarks in the state’s General Fund, which are sending about $93 million a year to roads and other transportation needs.

But GOP leaders in the House and Senate start the session wondering if it is proper to now remove those General Fund earmarks, and take that money for education – as the governor wants.

As the general session proceeds, Utah Policy will be polling on various issues and publishing those results, tracking Utahns’ opinions on subjects the state’s 104 part-time legislators will be dealing with.