Our Schools Now wants to put tax hike for education on the ballot in 2018

Posted at 2:46 PM, Jun 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-07 00:33:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Supporters of an income and sales tax hike to help pay for Utah's education system have begun the process to get on the ballot in 2018.

Our Schools Now filed paperwork with the Lt. Governor's Office on Tuesday in an effort to get the $700 million tax hike on the ballot.

"Our Schools Now is an essential first step toward assuring a permanent long-term funding solution for education in Utah," said Heidi Matthews with the Utah Education Association.

At a news conference, education and business leaders spoke about the need for the tax hike. Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson and Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller are two of the group's biggest supporters. Anderson said Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah State Legislature have done more to fund education, but insisted voters needed to decide how much to fund education.

Supporters of Our Schools Now sign paperwork to get on the 2018 ballot. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"This is, I believe, Utah’s current economic challenge. How do we propel our education system to a new high so that we can improve the quality of our workforce, so we can have the workers to keep our economy moving forward?" he said.

The process to get on the 2018 ballot is just beginning. With the paperwork filed, the Lt. Governor's Office will review the proposed language and draft a fiscal note. Then, Our Schools Now will have to conduct seven public hearings across the state in July.

After that, they have to gather 113,000 signatures in 26 of Utah's 29 senate districts. Once those are reviewed, and if they are approved, the "Teacher & Student Success Act" would go on next year's ballot.

If voters approved it, the average Utah household would see an income and sales tax hike of about $416, according to numbers from the Utah Foundation. Here's how it breaks down by income:

A breakdown by the Utah Foundation of how much the Our Schools Now ballot initiative would affect taxpayers. (screen grab of Our Schools Now paperwork)

Opponents point out that voters may want to support education, but may not want to pay even more in taxes to do it.

"When you talk about taking money out of your pocketbook and paying for rent and groceries and all of these things that families have to do, that becomes more real," said Evelyn Everton with the group Americans For Prosperity Utah.

Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said lawmakers have already pushed more money toward education. Even though Utah is last in per-pupil spending, Rep. McCay said they are seeing positive results.

Our Schools Now supporters acknowledge they will have to work hard to convince Utahns to fund a tax hike for education.

"We are asking a lot, but you know why? Because our children, Utah’s children, are the greatest thing we have," said Gay Beck, a kindergarten teacher at Highland Elementary. "They’re our future. They’re the future of our state."