SALT LAKE CITY — A school district funding bill opponents say is part of a legislative effort to give more money to charter schools was passed out of a House committee Friday.
HB301, sponsored by Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, would consolidate the 13 different tax levies school districts now have available into just six.
Newbold said her intent was "simply to allow greater flexibility with the school districts and to simplify education funding" and that her bill would not increase taxes.
"There's nothing in this bill that automatically raises taxes," she told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
But Patti Harrington, the lobbyist for both the state school boards association and the state school superintendents associations, said the bill was part of a push to find more funding for charter schools.
Harrington called HB301 a companion bill to Newbold's charter school funding bill, HB313, and said it is "trying to solve a larger problem, how to replace local property taxes that currently charter schools do not get."
She said HB313 would require local school districts to turn over some $67 million to charter schools. That, Harrington said, would likely compel local districts to raise property taxes.
"We worry terribly this will raise property taxes," Harrington told the committee.
Newbold disputed the claim.
"This is not a companion to anything. This bill stands on its own. This bill has been in the works for three years," she said. "I'm amazed there has been any connection made to those bills. That is not the intent of the sponsor and is poppycock."
Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clark, dismissed any talk of money being taken away from schools. "What this bill is saying, is if districts need to raise taxes, they'll have the headroom," he said. "Education ought to be thankful and not cautionary."
While several committee members and the Utah Taxpayers Association praised the school funding bill for making school district levies more transparent, others suggested it would have the opposite effect.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said voters would know less about where their taxes are going under the bill because many levies are being lumped into one of two categories.
"I just don't understand how less information equals more transparency," King said.
Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, disagreed and said "it isn't necessary for the public, for example, to always know all of the details."
The bill passed the committee 10-5 and now goes to the House, where GOP lawmakers have been discussing charter school funding in closed caucuses.