Utahns Favor Herbert’s Call for Investment in Education

More than two-thirds of Utahns support GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget request of $500 million more for public schools next year, a UtahPolicy poll finds.

But even though February saw another $101 million in surplus tax revenue estimates, GOP Senate and House leaders say there are too many other demands on the now-$739 million revenue surpluses to give Herbert such a large education increase.

Instead, UtahPolicy is told, the Legislature’s public education increases will be more in the $400 million range.

Still very healthy, but not what Herbert and 68 percent of Utahns favor, the survey by Dan Jones & Associates finds.

 

Twenty-seven percent of Utahns oppose the half-a-billion-dollar public education increase, and 5 percent didn’t now, Jones found in a survey conducted Feb. 2-9 or 606 Utahns. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent.

Herbert asked for a 6.5 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit, the basic, statewide per student funding formula used to measure how state monies flow into public education.

Each of the 41 school districts, on their own, also levy a property tax to support schools.

GOP legislative leaders say their WPU increase will be closer to 5 percent – still a large one-year hike.

Most of the state’s school money comes from the personal and corporate income tax, which has a 5 percent flat rate.

Utah’s growing economy has been fueling great increases in personal and corporate income, so the state’s Education Fund has been exploding in recent years.

Still, to reach his $500 million education growth level, Herbert took a sales tax earmark for transportation off the General Fund.

That earmark is bringing in around $90 million a year – and is growing one year over the next.

GOP leaders say now is not the time to remove the sales tax earmark for roads and bridges – as Utah is still lagging behind its transportation infrastructure needs.

So whatever public education increase level GOP lawmakers may ultimately decide upon, that $90 million will be staying in roads and not moving to public education.

Last week Herbert told reporters he doesn’t see – especially with the new $101 million in one-time and ongoing tax revenues – why legislators can’t reach his $500 million public education growth level.

But the governor said where ever lawmakers go in increased public education funding, it will be a big step forward.

Jones finds that just about everyone supports Herbert’s $500 million public education increase.

Some numbers:

  • Women, who traditionally in Utah have more to do with children’s education than men, support the governor’s budget by nearly 10 percentage points more than men. Women favor the $500 million 72-22 percent; men 63-33 percent.
  • Republicans like the governor’s education spending plan, 67-29 percent; Democrats, 84-14 percent; and political independents, 62-30 percent.

By this Friday lawmakers are supposed to have their 2015-2016 budget work done, so huge budget bills can be put together by staff over next weekend.

The session ends March 12 at midnight, now just nine days away.