Bill to Extend School Funding Equalization Sparks Outrage in Committee

Senator Wayne Harper (Republican - Taylorsville)
Senator Wayne Harper (Republican – Taylorsville)

As part of the Canyons/Jordan school district split, a deal was struck called “equalization.” Under the equalization deal, all school districts in Salt Lake County were required to financially support the west-side Jordan School District, as it worked to cope with a new reality of no longer having Canyons-area residents as part of its tax base. A bill proposed by Senator Wayne Harper (Republican – West Jordan), which would have extended that financial support to the Jordan school district, died a painful death in the Senate Education Committee.

Under SB 91, the sunset date (aka, the end date) for local equalization provisions would have been extended from the current end date, December 31, 2016, to December 31, 2020.

Harper’s bill would have also set up new standards for groups seeking to petition for a a new school district—not allowing any petition for a new district unless it was signed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the new proposed district.

Senator Pat Jones (Democrat – Holladay) voiced serious concerns about the bill. “When I read this bill, I really liked the first part,” said Jones, “but when I got to the sunset part, I have some issues with that.”

Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) also weighed in. “Even with this fix, even with this extension, we don’t even solve the problem. There is a disparate amount of revenue potential generated with a high amount of effort that’s already happening on behalf of the Jordan School District as an example. We need to step back and solve this larger problem. I believe this is an important step forward to continue this, to allow us time to look at property tax equalization. There is more than just one bill, there’s several bills on this issue. And I think this is a good thing for us to do and allow us to step back and take more time as a legislature and put on our statewide hats and come up with a solution to address this problem on a more macro-level.”

[pullquote]”The voters have spoken. Canyons voters are willing to pay for their schools, Jordan voters are not. It is not Canyons responsibility to continue to pony up for Jordan’s needs” – Kim Horiuchi[/pullquote]Kim Horiuchi, a member of the Canyons School Board, also spoke against the legislation. “Since 2010, we have been required to pay $8.8 million dollars in equalization to Jordan School District. We also have paid $216 million dollars in debt service to Jordan School District on its 2003 bond, even though 97 percent of that bond paid for all new schools in Jordan District while only one elementary school was built with that money in Canyons boundaries. To this day, we are responsible for paying a majority 58 percent of that bond versus 42 percent by Jordan School District. It also should be noted that voters in Jordan District just this past year resoundingly defeated their own bond while Canyons District voters approved a bond of its own in 2010. The voters have spoken. Canyons voters are willing to pay for their schools, Jordan voters are not. It is not Canyons responsibility to continue to pony up for Jordan’s needs, especially when they aren’t willing to meet those needs themselves. Moreover, our own voters have no say in paying this equalization and not one cent will be kept in Canyons taxing entity. It truly is taxation without representation and will result in a tax-rate increase for our residents if it continues. The sunset provision on this countywide equalization law was negotiated in good faith. We and the other school districts and representatives within the county reluctantly agreed to pay this equalization under the condition that at some point we would at least see an end to it.”

Lynn Pace, representing Salt Lake City, also expressed concerns about extending the sunset date. “We are deeply concerned that if that date gets pushed back and pushed back, that there won’t be a comprehensive attempt to address the issue. And the issue is this from a policy perspective. If there is a need for capital equalization, the need doesn’t just exist in Salt Lake County, it exists statewide. If there isn’t a need for capital equalization, then we shouldn’t have it in Salt Lake County either.”

Ultimately, a voice vote took place to hold the bill, effectively killing the bill.

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