A state lawmaker says there’s a way to find out if Utah citizens are serious about pumping millions more into education: Put it to a vote.
"I want the citizens of Utah to put up or be quiet when it comes to funding education," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, co-chair of the Education Interim Committee.
The committee on Wednesday reviewed proposed legislation that would raise $400 million for schools by ending the personal exemption on income tax. That exemption favors large families, and ending it would hit them the hardest.
A family of four would pay about $400 more in state taxes each year, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Salt Lake City.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the Legislature is not likely to vote for such a tax hike. A referendum or even a nonbinding vote of the people may be the only way to go, he said. Even so, he called Jones’ proposal "the most perfect version" yet of those that would take away the personal exemption.
Stephenson said later that he would vote against such a tax hike, and believes voters would reject it as well.
The Legislature cannot directly put a referendum on the ballot without voters first changing the Constitution.
Jones reminded her colleagues that they’ve approved even more in earmarks — $439 million — for transportation projects. "I don’t remember us sending out a nonbinding resolution to the citizens to increase their taxes for that. ... We have to look at education as an investment in our state, in our children," Jones said.
Under her proposal, every public school would get $44,300 and then an amount based on student population, averaging about $400,000 for elementaries, $700,000 for middle schools and $1 million for high schools. As the economy improved, the yearly allocation would go up.
Community councils for each school would receive training and would oversee the spending to ensure the new money goes toward the school’s improvement plan.
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