SALT LAKE CITY — Hours before a legislative task force was to consider the latest proposal to reform taxes, the Utah State Board of Education approved a statement that emphasizes the importance of “maintaining a constitutional guarantee for education funding.”
The statement also lifts up the importance of maintaining stable funding for education, increasing strategic investment in education, and accounting for variations in school districts’ ability to raise local revenue.
The board approved the statement in advance of a meeting of the Utah Legislature’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force on Thursday afternoon at the state Capitol.
Even as the board was debating the content of the statement, a 182-page bill became available online that calls for lowering the state income tax rate to 4.58%. Income tax revenues are earmarked for education in Utah, supporting both public schools and state colleges. The current rate is 4.95%.
Under the proposal, higher education funding would come from the general fund, which would receive more than $570 million in additional revenue under a plan that would raise sales tax on food and tax some services, among other proposed changes. Public education funding would be held “harmless,” according to a bill summary prepared by legislative staff.
Earlier Thursday, Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews urged the board to join educators at the Capitol and to “wear red for ed,” in support of education.
She applauded State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson’s remarks during a statement during a recent meeting of the Utah Public Education Coalition to discuss proposed tax reform.
“Superintendent Dixon said we need a fundamental change how we fund education. Instead of planning around the funding, we need to fund our plans,” Matthews said, referring to the State School Board’s Strategic Plan and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Education Roadmap.
I feel like we’re waffling to the point of being weak.
–Carol Lear, Utah school board member
The original statement considered by the board did specifically address maintaining the longtime constitutional guarantee that income tax be used solely for education. However, it called for an appropriate replacement constitutional guarantee should the income tax earmark be eliminated.
But board members such as Ken Hansen and Carol Lear urged the board to send a strong statement in support of a constitutional guarantee that income tax fund schools.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t make a stronger statement about the constitutional protection,” Lear said.
“I feel like we’re waffling to the point of being weak,” she said.
Hansen proposed an amendment that “we want to maintain some sort of a constitutional guarantee. ... It doesn’t say maintain the constitutional guarantee, it says maintain a constitutional guarantee, reminding the legislators that we are in the constitution now and we want to maintain something in the constitution — a provision or guarantee for education funding.
“It doesn’t specify a source it just says ‘Hey, this should be constitutional so it can’t be changed at the whim of the Legislature, it has to be changed by the voters,’” Hansen said.
The board approved the amendment and voted to support the statement in its entirety.