More than two-thirds of Utahns say raise their state income tax slightly to provide more funds for public education, a new UtahPolicy poll says.
Public education funding is always a priority for Utah lawmakers, who meet in their general session the end of January – now just two months away.
But even though various civic, business and education groups have been calling for a tax hike for several years to support K-12 education, legislators have refused.
The new poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 68 percent of Utahns would support a one percentage point increase in their income tax rate if the money went to “targeted, specific programs to improve public education.”
Utahns now pay a flat 5 percent personal income tax; corporations pay the same 5 percent rate.
Twenty-nine percent of adults would oppose such a tax hike, and 3 percent didn’t know.
Across the demographic board, every group supports the small tax hike, Jones finds:
Utah Republicans, 64-32 percent in favor.
Democrats, 89-6 percent.
Political independents, 67-32 percent.
Those most recently in public schools, the 18-24-year-olds, 74-26 percent.
Those furthest away from public education, those 65 years old and older, 66-28 percent.
Even those historically most against tax increases – the “very conservative” in their politics – support a one percentage point increase in their own state income taxes, 54-44 percent.
Those who said they are “somewhat conservative” politically favor it, 62-35 percent.
And the political moderates like it, 79-18 percent.
Liberals are way, way in favor of it, more than 80 percent.
So, one might think the 2016 Legislature would pass such a measure – or one similar to it.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, tells UtahPolicy that he doesn’t believe there will be any tax hike this coming session, no tax cuts, either.
The amount of taxes – and the revenue produced by all state operations – is about right, says Hughes.
Utahns should not be asked to pay any more in taxes.
The bi-partisan civic, education and business group Education First has been advocating for more money for Utah schools for several years.
But they have not put forward, not endorsed, any particular funding plan.
The group’s leaders appeared ready to make such a proposal in the 2015 Legislature.
But as it became apparent that transportation and water advocacy groups were coming to the Legislature asking for higher taxes and a more secure funding plan, the pro-education folks backed off.
2016 is an election year for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, all of the 75-member House and half of the 29-member Senate.
Historically, there are not tax increases in an election year in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Should Herbert win next year, this will be his last four-year term.
And so it may be that Herbert – fresh off his final election – asks for some kind of education tax hike in 2017.
A decade ago, the Utah Constitution was changed to allow personal and corporate income tax revenue – always dedicated to K-12 schools – to also go toward state public colleges and universities.
Over time hundreds of millions of dollars that would have gone just to public education has been turned aside to higher education – even though public education budgets have grown over that time.
There’s been talk of raising the state sales tax – or some other revenue source for the state’s General Fund – to claw back some of the income tax to public education.
There’s also been talk of capping the number of children deductions allowed on the state income tax returns.
If only two or three deductions per child were allowed, larger families – who are using the public schools more – would have to pay more for their children’s education.
Also, suggestions have been made that would target new school taxes specifically to neighborhood schools, with parent, teacher, administrator school committees deciding where that money would be spent – within certain State School Board guidelines.
Finally, Jones asked those polled if they supported more money for public education – without tying such increased spending to a particular tax hike proposal.
As would be expected, Utahns really favor that.
Seventy-seven percent – or more than three-fourths – of Utahns want more money going to K-12 schools.
Only 19 percent oppose such an idea, Jones found.
And, again, all the demographic groups favor increased school spending.
GOP legislative leaders can at least promise that.
Utah’s economy is growing – if not booming. And over the last several years tens of millions of dollars more have been put into schools by lawmakers.
But these funds are just INCREASES in revenue collections under the current tax rates.
Legislators did not increase tax rates – and in Jones’ new polling Utahns say they are willing to do that if the money is targeted to specific programs that will help educate our children.
Jones polled 604 adults between Sept. 8-17; with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percent.