Poll: Utahns Want to Vote on Whether to Raise Taxes for Public Education

Utah State CapitolTwo-thirds of Utahns want to vote this fall on whether to raise their own state income taxes for public education, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.

On another education funding topic, most Utahns don’t want to take state income tax revenue away from public colleges and universities, rather, they favor keeping personal and corporate income taxes dedicated to BOTH public schools and higher education institutions.

Both funding issues are ideas put before the current Utah Legislature.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds in a new survey that 65 percent of Utahns want the option of voting themselves an increase of almost one percentage point on their state income taxes, the money going to fund local schools.

Thirty percent don’t even want to vote on the issue, and 4 percent don’t know.

While most appear willing to raise their own income taxes for public schools, they don’t favor a constitutional amendment that would decouple public school and university funding sources, Jones finds.

Fifty-four percent of Utahns don’t favor changing the funding source for colleges and universities.

Thirty-four percent support the change to the state Constitution, and 13 percent don’t know.

Education First Utah, a group of civic, business and government leaders, and Prosperity 2020, a Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce organization, propose that Utahns get the opportunity to vote on raising their own state income taxes by 7/8th of 1 percentage point.

The current flat-rate income tax is 5 percent, adopted a decade ago.

The new tens of millions of dollars would go to help the state’s 41 local school districts, and could be spent in many ways.

Meanwhile, some public education advocates want to go back to the state Constitution’s original income tax earmarking for public education only.

Since a state income tax was first levied back in the Great Depression-era 1930s – specifically sold to taxpayers as a way to raise money for public schools – it was – until the 1990s – a single source: All the money went to K-12 schooling.

But in the 1990s, as the personal and corporate income tax was growing quickly, lawmakers began to worry that public schools would be getting too much money too quickly, and Utah colleges and universities would be starved for cash.

So lawmakers proposed – and citizens voted – to amend the Constitution to allow personal and corporate income tax revenue to go to higher education, also.

General Fund tax revenues – mainly the state sales tax – would also help fund colleges, government leaders said.

And, in fact, General Fund revenues have gone to higher education over recent years.

But now K-12 funding is dragging. Utah on a per-child basis spends less money each year on public education than any other state in the nation.

And public education advocates are saying it was a bad idea to expand state income tax revenues to higher education – going back is the best move.

But Jones finds Utahns are not for that change:

  • Among all Utahns, only 34 percent favor taking higher education funding out of income tax revenue, 54 percent oppose the change.
  • Among Republicans, 36 percent favor, 50 percent oppose.
  • Democrats, 28 percent favor, 63 percent oppose.
  • And political independents are against the change, 30-60 percent.

One the first question: Do you want to vote on raising your income tax for public schools:

  • 63 percent of Republicans want the vote, 33 percent oppose, 4 percent don’t know.
  • Democrats want the vote, 77-19 percent, with 4 percent undecided.
  • And political independents want it, 67-30 percent, with 2 percent “don’t know.”

Jones polled 625 adults from Feb. 10-15, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.92 percent.