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Utah lawmaker proposes income tax hike to fund education

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Posted at 9:55 PM, Jan 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-12 23:55:22-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A hike in the state’s income tax would be good for education, according Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan.

Draxler is drafting legislation that calls for a 1 percent increase, which would raise the state’s personal income tax rate from 5 to 6 percent.

“We can’t maintain our spot as the top state in the union to do business, and as one of the lowest states in education,” Draxler said. “We’ve been doing this dance for too long.”

According to his proposal, the increase would translate to approximately $584 million more in annual funding for education in Utah.

For a family of four, who owns a home and lives on the median income, that increase would cost $575 per year.

“Do you want your child or your grandchild to have a world class education in Utah?” asked Draxler. “Of course, they’re going to say yes. The question is how do we pay for it?”

The answer is not necessarily a tax hike, according to Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

“Is the answer raising a tax, or raising an income tax?” Hughes asked. “We live in Utah. I think that we are very much in sync with our constituents that we represent, and we worry about taxes and tax increases. So, that’s a weighty matter.”

But supporters of the plan point to Utah’s rankings in the classroom for an argument that carries weight to them.

“We have the highest class sizes in the nation. We have the lowest amount of money being spent, per pupil, in the country,” said Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association.

As the head of Utah’s largest public education employees’ union, Gallagher-Fishbaugh has watched as many of her members have left to work in bordering states, like Wyoming and Nevada because salaries are better.

“We actually have many openings right now in our schools that are being filled with unlicensed educators and in some cases even student teachers,” she said. “This is long overdue.”

Until 2007, the state’s income was 7 percent. According to the UEA, it then decreased to 5 percent and that move was closely followed by a recession that crippled their budget.

“We haven’t gotten back to those pre-recession levels yet in public education funding,” Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.

While Draxler’s plan may have won over educators in the classroom, lawmakers at the Capitol still have to be sold.

“Let’s make sure whatever those decisions we make don’t have the opposite effect of maybe becoming a disincentive for corporate expansion or relocation or more job growth,” Hughes said. “More job growth is the key to getting more critical dollars to our schools.”