Proposed legislation that called for raising the state income tax to help pay for education funding suffered a decisive defeat Monday afternoon in the House Education Committee.
HB 54 – Public Education Increased Funding Program, which is sponsored by Representative Jack Draxler (Republican – Logan), died on a 2-11 party-line vote. Only the committee’s two lone Democrats – Representative Carol Spackman Moss (Holladay) and Representative Marie Poulson (Cottonwood Heights) – voted for the bill.
Under the bill, the state income tax rate would be increased from 5 percent to 5.5 percent to fund education. 50 percent of the money would be used to fund to the Pay for Performance Incentive Pay Program, which would provide incentive payments to outstanding classroom teachers. 25 percent would be allocated for the Digital Teaching and Learning Technology Program, which would help improve outcomes through the use of digital teaching and learning technology as well as professional development for educators. The final 25 percent would be used to fund salary increases for educators.
A family of four who owns their home and whose income is at the median level would see a yearly tax increase of $288, or 79 cents a day. Meanwhile, the bill itself was expected to raise $429.7 million in new education dollars by 2017.
Draxler says that Utah needs to maintain its reputation as being one of the best states for business, and that is unsustainable if we continue on the same path with regard to education.
“We are essentially spinning our wheels in education if we want to elevate our system. In a way, we’ve only been able to maintain the status quo,” said Draxler.
Draxler is no fan of taxes. “I’m a self-employed businessman. People say the property tax is the most hated tax. However, for me in the business I’m in, I hate the income tax the most.”
But ultimately, he believes that the Legislature has “danced around” the topic of education funding for years and something needs to be done to ensure the state’s future.
“I think it’s disingenuous for us to say education is our number one priority, whether we’re talking about legislators or the public, and not being willing to step up and fund it.”
“$450 million is not going to raise Utah significantly above last place in our per capita funding,” said Peter Cannon, speaking on behalf of the Utah Eagle Forum. Reading a section of the Utah Republican Party’s platform regarding taxation, Cannon doesn’t believe an income tax increase would be proper. “I just think sometimes we kid ourselves when we think there is any amount of an income tax increase that will get us out of the bottom of the ratings of per capita funding for education. There’s nothing we can afford. If we doubled it, we probably wouldn’t even get past about 35th place in the country. We cannot double our education taxation. We can get by with what we have.”
Dr. Sara Jones, director of education excellence for the Utah Education Association, praised Representative Draxler for running the bill. “Since 2008, Utah education funding is still more than 5 percent below those pre-recession funding levels. We appreciate his courage in presenting a solution that would actually infuse more than $400 million into public education. That would actually generate the kind of substantial new revenue that’s necessary to make a real difference in public education funding.” While UEA has some concerns about the bill, they believe that it deserves further debate in the House and urged the committee to pass it out.