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More for education, COVID response in governor's proposed budget

Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson and Governor Spencer Cox
Posted at 10:12 AM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 00:31:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox is proposing to spend more money for education, including earmarking funds for rural schools.

Gov. Cox unveiled his proposed $21.7 billion budget on Monday, which includes:

  • More than $12 billion in public education funding, including spending for rural schools and raises for teachers
  • Raises for some state employees and parental leave being expanded
  • An $80 million tax cut
  • At least $250 million for ongoing efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic
  • $20 million for social services including mobile crisis teams
  • $125 million for open space and more parks and trails
  • $350 million for double-tracking Frontrunner
  • $125 million for broadband infrastructure improvements in rural Utah and electric vehicle charging stations statewide

"Even with the success we’re experiencing overall as a state, it’s clear not everyone is experiencing the same," the governor said.

The governor announced his budget proposal during a virtual news conference from Cedar City, where he was also opening an Office of Rural Affairs at Southern Utah University. On education funding, the governor floated property tax equalization, a controversial idea in the past. The idea is to take money from more affluent school districts and spread it around to poorer areas.

"You can do a lot of things to eat around the edges, but if we really want to enhance and provide equal opportunities for all students in the state of Utah, not just those in affluent areas, we want to make sure those that live maybe in poor or under-served areas also have the same level of funding as other students do," Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson said Monday. "This is fundamental."

Heidi Matthews, the president of the Utah Education Association (the state's largest teachers union) said she was thrilled with the increase in education spending. She said it was promises kept to educators after voters approved Amendment G, which re-worked property taxes for education.

"I'm just really enthusiastic about the much needed investments in our education system right now," she said.

But Matthews told FOX 13 she does have concerns about property tax equalization.

"We support it when it means new money and not taking from one to distribute more to others," she said.

The governor's proposed budget includes boosts in funding for rural areas. Gov. Cox complained of poor roads in rural areas and not enough money to fix them. He also wanted boosts in broadband access.

"It’s impossible to attract any kind of new economy if you don’t have the basic infrastructure," he said.

Gov. Cox also proposed an $80 million tax cut in Social Security income and dependent exemptions (something the federal government took away in its tax reform package).

While the governor can propose a budget, it is the Utah State Legislature that actually passes one during the 2021 session that starts next week. Lawmakers expressed some optimism about the new governor's budget.

"It’s possible," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who oversees the budget for the Utah State Senate, said of a tax cut. "Just remember there are 104 other legislature that will need to vote on that, to get it where it is. But in my mind it’s do-able."

Read the proposed budget here: