Sen. Jim Dabakis’ proposal to cut higher education out of the income tax equation would take nearly $600 million annually out of that system. However, Dabakis says he’s got a proposal to fix that problem.
Right now, all income taxes collected by the state go to fund both public and higher education. The proposed constitutional amendment in SJR4 removes higher education from that mix, boosting money for public education.
Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, acknowledges that higher ed officials are “in a tizzy” about the proposed change because they would be short an estimated $560 million per year. Dabakis says he’s working on a solution.
“If this amendment were to pass, our higher education system would collapse,” says Dabakis.
He is working on a companion bill that would not allow the constitutional amendment to take effect until there is a one-percent increase in sales tax that would be set aside specifically for higher education.
“I would cut off my left or right hand before I would let the constitutional amendment pass without taking care of higher education,” says Dabakis. “That would provide a billion more dollars for public education, and higher ed would come out a little ahead. Everybody gets more money in the billions of dollars, and it’s up to the voters.”
Indeed. Dabakis’ proposed constitutional amendment has to get a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate and be signed by the governor before it goes to voters.
Dabakis thinks his idea has a real chance on the Hill this year because it does not require his colleagues to approve a tax increase.
“That’s why I think this has a real possibility. It’s not legislators who are voting on this, like an income tax hike. It’s the voters who would decide. Lawmakers would only be deciding on a small sales tax increase to fund higher education.”
Dabakis is very animated and passionate when he discusses his quest to provide more money for public education in Utah.
“We need a giant, bold vision. We need a billion dollars,” he says, punctuating every word by bringing his fists firmly down on the table. “I don’t see that kind of vision anywhere else. We’re last in spending; we have the lowest paid teachers per student, the biggest classrooms. We have made this sacrifice of our young on the altar of the Tea Party. There’s no guts, no bravery, no courage. I’m not interested in another incremental increase.”
Dabakis is still working on his companion bill, but hopes to make it public sometime this week.