ST. GEORGE – Gov. Gary Herbert ceremonially signed an education funding bill Monday that could nearly triple the amount of education spending in the state over the next five years. The ceremony was held at an elementary school in Salt Lake City.
The bill, which was a compromise between Utah lawmakers and the backers of the Our Schools Now ballot initiative, will place the question of increasing the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon on the November ballot. Revenue garnered from the increased gas tax will be applied to public education funding.
If passed, the gas tax would provide an estimated $125 million to public education in the first full year of its implementation, according to a news release of the Governor’s Office.
The gas tax increase, coupled with other funds and a freeze on state property tax rates, is anticipated to produce around $386 million in public education funding by 2023, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Herbert praised the collaborative spirit between the Legislature and the Our Schools Now group that made the compromise bill possible.
“I believe that the people of Utah want to invest more into education. And I believe that the people of Utah believe that they should pay their fair share,” Herbert said Monday. “Today we are celebrating a remarkable collaboration between the Our Schools Now initiative and our state legislature. In typical Utah fashion, they came together this session in search of solutions on a topic we all care about – and together, they found an answer that provides a win for everyone involved.”
In response to the signing of the bill, Our Schools Now submitted a letter to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office explaining that it is withdrawing its initiative petition and will no longer seek to put the initiative on the ballot.
Gail Miller, a co-chair of Our Schools Now, also praised the compromise.
“Utah families hold high expectations for the future of our state, none of which can be reached without a greater commitment to education,” Miller said. “This is the year to invest in our local schools to bring sufficient resources to teachers and high-quality learning opportunities to students. A small increase at the gas pump for local schools is a much-needed investment that will bring an outstanding return to the Utah taxpayer, and I strongly encourage Utahns to join us in supporting Utah’s teachers and students.”
The original tax increase under the ballot initiative sought to raise education spending by over $700 million by 2020. This would have come about through sales and income tax increases proposed by the initiative.
Opponents of the initiative, which included members of the Legislature, argued the initiative’s tax increases could raise overall taxes by as much as 20 percent or more.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, said he had reservations about the compromise bill but ultimately voted for it. He said it is nonetheless a “good step” toward increased education spending.
“I felt it was a compromise that was acceptable,” he said, adding that the Legislature can tweak the state tax laws in future legislative session as needed.
As part of the compromise, state property tax rates are frozen for the next five years. However, residents will still see an increase in the amount they pay as home values are expected to continue rising. As for personal and corporate income taxes, the bill lowers the rate from 5 percent to 4.95 percent.
Utah lawmakers would rather not have to raise taxes, Brooks said, but when they do, they try to keep the tax burden on the citizens as low as possible.
The Our Schools Now initiative was one of six ballot initiatives submitted to the state during this election cycle. In order to get on the November ballot, the initiative needed 113,000 verified signatures from 26 and the county’s 29 counties.
In its withdrawal letter to the Lt. Governor’s Office, Our Schools Now officials said the initiative had gathered over 150,000 signatures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
- Read full text of the bill: House Bill 293 – Tax Rebalancing Revisions
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Rep. Bread Last | Floor Sponsor: Sen. Lincoln Fillmore
- Southern Utah Senators: Evan Vickers, Don Ipson, David Hinkins and Ralph Okerlund| Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Representatives: Travis Seegmiller, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, John Westwood, Merrill Nelson and Mike Noel | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
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