Gov. Herbert praises plan that could triple education funding

In this file photo, Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 5, 2015 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

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.

Read more: Utah lawmakers get schools deal as 2018 Legislature ends but drop some divisive bills

This November, Utah voters will be able to choose whether they want to pay an extra 10 cents per gallon for gas for education funding as a part of a 2018 tax bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert | Stock photo by Geribody, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

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.

Read more: Our Schools Now seeks higher taxes for education. Opponents argue tax hikes never solve the problem.

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.

Read more: Our Schools Now amends ballot proposal with reduced tax increase

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.

In this February 2017 file photo, students check out their new classroom at the newly opened Legacy Elementary School, St. George, Utah, Feb. 9, 2017 | Photo by Mike Cole, St. George News

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.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • Dusty April 16, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    I have a problem with a ’10 cent per gallon’ price increase. I am not convinced that my state legislators will take care of ‘my money’ and spend it appropriately.
    I have a problem with school board members and even principals who make more money than a school teacher does. The school teacher is the one who needs our support -not bureaucrats.

    • mesaman April 16, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      I have a similar concern, Dusty. I’m certainly not against professional educators gaining higher wages and building on their retirement, but I have concerns that the money should be spent on improving the education process and not on increased travel budgets and convention perks for administrators plus the other funds that find their way into the superintendents slush funds.

  • great success April 16, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Glad to see this gain favorable momentum. Investing in education pays off for our society. Majority of people see the sense in this.

  • utahdiablo April 16, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    You want to have more children? then YOU pay for YOUR children, we all shouldn’t have to be saddled with this debt, this .10 cent a gallon tax will never go away….so we shall see you at the ballot box…and this being pushed through by a Govenor who hasn’t had to pay for his own gasoline in 9 years!! …first we get stuck with the State gas tax last year of .05 a gallon, and with oil prices going up everyday and the Utah state gas tax rate going up as the price of oil rises? That tax is also going to rise, oh, forgot about that one, eh folks….enjoy $3.50 – $4.00 a gallon gas

  • comments April 16, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    GarbageBert is a liberal hiding in sheeps clothing– Pretending to be a good mormon-republican, but actually the worst breed of tax ‘n’ spend LIBRUL!

  • dodgers April 17, 2018 at 5:46 am

    Where’s the connection between gas and school? Sounds like a bad idea, having everyone pick up the tab, most who have no connection to schools.

    IF more money is really needed, find a method that at least places more of the the burden on those who use the schools. Perhaps put a cap (2?) on the number of dependent exemptions for state income tax. Even a very slight increase in the sales tax would be better than increasing the gasoline tax. Parents buying for their children will pay more in sales taxes. The more children, the more you end up paying.

    It doesn’t take a village.

    All said, I suspect the public educational system is a mess, putting too much emphasis and $$ into administration rather than the teachers and classroom supplies.

  • Not_So_Much April 17, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I will NEVER vote to increase my taxes and will only vote for candidates for office who will stretch every penny and avoid any tax increases. Spending is the problem that needs to be addressed at all levels.

  • Gary April 17, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I’m a retired educator and I will not vote for a tax increase for education, especially a gas tax . This money will not be used to improve teachers salary, oh maybe a small amount, but will be spent on things like telling the teachers how to do their jobs by people, the legislature, who don’t have a clue. VOTE NO ON THIS TAX INCREASE. I’m with dodgers on this.

  • uprightandmovingforward April 18, 2018 at 6:22 am

    The problem isn’t money, it is curriculum. Our education system is stuck in the 1950’s teaching subjects that don’t relate to the future. Until the education system finally sees the light and changes what is teaches and how it makes students responsible for their own success, no amount of money is going to make it better.

  • Thecadean April 20, 2018 at 11:39 am

    good step forward. Always prefer user fees over blanket taxes. would be even better if a part of the 10 cent gas fee went to public transportation. Rapidly growing cities like Hurricane and St George really need to plan out 20-50 years from now. The rapid growth will surely lead to gridlock and will only get excessively more expensive to include public transport the longer they wait.

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