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Utah lawmaker: Let’s use booze profit for schools


By Robert Gehrke

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 09 2013 01:01AM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:32PM

That next bottle of wine or case of beer could help Johnny and Sally learn math if Rep. Jim Bird succeeds in passing a unique education funding proposal.

"What we’re doing is taking 10 percent of the gross profit [from liquor sales] and earmarking it for public education," said Bird, R-West Jordan, describing a bill he will run in the upcoming legislative session.

When Bird ran a similar bill last year, it was estimated that it would direct $31 million to Utah schools. The bill barely made it through committee and was not voted on by the full House.

Now, because of increasing sales, he says the amount dedicated would be closer to $37 million. It would not be a net tax increase, so the money would have to come out of the revenues that fund other areas of state government.

That is a problem for Allison Rowland, director of research and budget for the group Voices for Utah Children, because it would mean cutting programs that Utahns depend on that were already pared back during the recession.

"We are absolutely opposed to this bill," Rowland said. "The state needs additional revenue to fund the growth in population and general changes in the state. We need new revenue. We can’t just shift revenue from one fund to another and pretend that solves the problem, because it does not."

Bird said he’d love to find new revenue, "but my question is, where are you going to get that funding? If they have an idea to come up with $37 million in some other way, I’m all ears."

Bird’s outside-the-boxed-wine proposal is the latest offbeat proposal to increase Utah’s last-in-the-nation per-pupil funding. In 2011, he successfully sponsored a bill that allows school districts to sell advertisements on school buses.

Last year, the Jordan School District said the ads brought $35,000 to the district.

A portion of liquor sales in Utah already goes to support public schools. Ten percent of the total sales goes directly to the school lunch program. A portion of the liquor revenues also funds ParentsEmpowered.org, a program aimed at curbing youth drinking.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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