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Senate combines property tax freeze, school funding equalization proposals

First Published      Last Updated Mar 06 2017 02:02 pm

Senators played matchmaker on Friday, joining a bill to raise money for education with a dormant proposal to equalize school district funding.

The Senate gave a preliminary vote of 26-0 to SB255, which would freeze the statewide property rate and capture roughly $21 million for schools — and potentially more each year — through inflation.

But before that vote, the bill was substituted to include elements of SB80, which aims to supplement school districts with low property tax yields by creating, and lifting, a statewide funding floor.

SB80 passed the Senate in early February, but has remained untouched in the House amid concerns from educators that diverting resources to low-funded school districts would leave the education system as a whole with less ability to address rising costs.




SB80 sponsor Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said the property tax freeze in SB255 creates a new revenue source, leaving intact the 4 percent bump in per-student spending planned by legislative leaders.

"This would be a better source of funding for that equity project," he said.

The property tax freeze, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, puts a five-year lock on a statewide property tax rate that would otherwise adjust down to remain revenue-neutral as property values increase.

"In five years," Stephenson said, "we will have to decide what to do, if anything, to ensure that equalization continues."

State education funding is distributed equitably through the weighted pupil unit, or WPU, a formula that standardizes per-student spending throughout Utah. But individual districts supplement that funding with local property taxes, which vary greatly depending on local economic factors.

Stephenson said that while $21 million won't solve the disparity between high- and low-earning districts, it will provide additional help to areas that struggle to generate revenue on their own.

"This is half a loaf," he said of combining his bill with SB80. "It's better than nothing and I'm happy that my bill would be used for that purpose."

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

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