Before 2006, Utah had a progressive state income tax that topped out at 7 percent. I have introduced a bill that would reinstate the 7 percent rate, but only for people making more than $500,000 a year ($250,000 for singles). SB141 would affect only about half of one percent of Utahns. That's 18,000 taxpayers, with an average increase of $12,800.
For decades, Utah legislators have ignored responsible funding for our schools. Not only have the politicians failed to keep current, but the state is actually moving backwards. The Legislature and the governor are spending significantly less on education now, on a per $1,000 personal income, than over the past two decades. The sad truth is that our deadbeat parent state is falling further behind on its education commitments.
Over the last 20 years, lawmakers have removed over $1 billion a year from public school budgets by lowering taxes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Utah Foundation, our K-12 funding has dropped by 28.7 percent over the last two decades.
Utah's happy-talk, public relations spin about K-12 education is all smiley faces, but the statistics are grim. The state spends $6,519 per student per year. The national average is $11,009, and top tier states like Wyoming in recent years have spent $15,987 (U.S. Census). To reach the national average, Utah would need to increase spending by $2.5 billion a year. Locked in 50th place for more than a generation, Utah has fallen so deep, it is now $4,509 per student lower in funding than the average state. The sad fact is Utah accepts this as a given. I do not.
Passing SB141 would be the most serious action for sustained K-12 funding in a generation. It simply asks our most financially successful citizens to return to the tax rate they paid in 2006. Then, if it is necessary, we can, in good conscience, ask all hardworking Utahns to make a sacrifice for our neighborhood schools. This bill is a major step toward making Utah a world-class, K-12 education system, where we reward and honor our teachers and give our children the competitive advantage they need to compete in the world marketplace for jobs.
Urge your legislators to vote for SB141. It's important.
Jim Dabakis represents Salt Lake City in the Utah Senate.