Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
It’s time to raise taxes for education, transportation, say Utah leaders
Utah Foundation » Panelists say the unpopular measures are necessary to cover education, transportation needs.
First Published Mar 28 2013 03:08 pm • Last Updated Mar 28 2013 09:52 pm

The clinking of glasses and background whispers stopped abruptly when Sen. Aaron Osmond mentioned two magic words he says are needed for the future of Utah education and transportation: Raise taxes.

"Hmm, deathly silence," Osmond then noted during a Utah Foundation luncheon Thursday about how to handle future education and transportation needs without pitting one against the other, or hurting both.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"Does the Legislature have the political will to increase tax revenue for public education?" the South Jordan Republican asked. "I don’t know. But this is one legislator who believes the time has come for us to find a new method to generate new money for public education."

And it’s time to also find new money for transportation, he and others said — including suggesting such things as raising fuel taxes now and allowing automatic future raises tied to inflation, restoring the full sales tax on food, and perhaps creating automatic hikes for education taxes also tied to inflation.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams told the luncheon that the population of his county is expected to double in the next 20 to 30 years.

Foundation President Stephen Kroes said challenges from that growth too often pit transportation vs. education in battles for scarce state revenue.

So several panelists suggested the answer is to get a bigger pot of money — while ensuring that any new funds are spent wisely and achieve targeted results.

Osmond noted that the state still ranks last in per-pupil spending because of large family sizes. Natalie Gochnour, economist for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said Utah test scores and graduation rates are dropping — with just a 65 percent four-year graduation rate now in Salt Lake City. She said more diversity means fewer kids speak English at home, making education more expensive.

On the transportation side of competing needs, a Utah Foundation study last week said the state faces an $11 billion shortfall over 30 years for high-priority transportation projects.

"I think we are at a point where there is acceptance of the problem" among state leaders, "and recognition that we need to do something," Osmond said. "We just need to step up and do our job."

story continues below
story continues below

Gochnour said if the Legislature does not act, it may be wise to go directly to the people, even in a referendum — such as when voters approved sales tax hikes that have funded much of the new TRAX and FrontRunner lines built by the Utah Transit Authority.

She said no better way exists to push raising taxes than to give the public a direct say in the decision, and show them data outlining problems.

Among ideas floated by panelists was Osmond’s to allow automatic increases in education taxes tied to inflation; Gochnour’s push to raise fuel taxes that have not risen since 1997 and restore sales tax on food; and McAdams’ idea to also allow automatic fuel tax increases tied to inflation.

About state fuel tax, Gochnour said it has been 24.5 cents a gallon since 1997. Because of inflation, it is now worth 14.7 cents a gallon in 1997 dollars. "So we have a bigger population and a bigger system, and we’re taking in — in real terms — 40 percent less. We can’t have the nation’s fastest-growing economy and third-fastest-growing population and not ask highway users to pay their fair share."

Osmond says that in talks with constituents, he finds voters would endorse education tax increases on three conditions: the money gets to the classroom and not administration, accountability can show the money is used wisely, and the state measures to ensure it gets results designed for the money.


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.