School Funding 01

One idea for changing Utah’s tax system that seems to be gaining traction on Utah’s Capitol Hill is ending the constitutional requirement that all income taxes collected by the state go toward funding education. If lawmakers decide to head down that path, they may have a difficult time getting Utah voters to follow them.

A new Utah Political Trends survey from UtahPolicy.com and Y2 Analytics finds half of Utahns oppose ending the mandate that income taxes go exclusively toward education. Just 30% say they would favor removing that requirement. 20% were neutral on the issue.

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Utah lawmakers are currently studying ways to shore up Utah’s tax system, saying income and other taxes are out of balance as consumer behavior shifts away from purchasing goods to more of a service-based economy. One idea being floated is imposing sales taxes on services such as rideshares or cleaning services. Our polling finds Utahns are not completely sold on that idea, with 33% in favor and 39% opposed. Lawmakers are also discussing reinstating the state portion of the sales tax on food while taking steps to offset the increased financial burden that would fall on lower-income Utahns. The Utah Political Trends poll finds Utahns overwhelmingly oppose that idea, with ⅔ saying they are against it.

“We do not have a money problem,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. “We have a flexibility problem on where our money is coming from,” he said.

Utah is the only state that has a constitutional requirement to set aside a source of revenue specifically for education. Critics say ending the earmark would allow lawmakers to decrease Utah’s already dismal funding levels for education. The state consistently ranks at or near the bottom in per-pupil funding. 

“I want every damn dollar that should go to education to go there,” said Gibson to House Republicans at their caucus meeting on Wednesday. “Anyone who says we’re not going to fund education is not being honest. The current mechanism for funding is broken,” he said.

Gibson acknowledges that any effort to end the constitutional requirement will likely be met with fierce resistance. But, he’s not shying away from the controversy.

“It’s a hard discussion, but let’s have that discussion,” he said.

There’s not much support in any partisan group we measured for ending the constitutional mandate.

  • 36% of “strong” Republicans support getting rid of the requirement, while 46% in that group are opposed. 
  • More than half of moderate Republicans, independent voters who lean toward Democrats, moderate and “strong” Democrats oppose doing away with the requirement. 

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The survey was conducted from July 31 to August 6, 2019, among 1,017 registered Utah voters, with a margin of error +/- 3.1%. You can read more about the methodology used in the poll here, and our online survey panel here.