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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Will there be tax increases for education in Utah?

Published: Sunday, April 7 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol shines against the Salt Lake Valley during the final day of legislature in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Spring break is over and the Easter bunny has crawled back into his hole. Thus, your columnists are no longer distracted and can focus on the topics of the week.

State Sen. Aaron Osmond made headlines recently when he said he is one Republican who is willing to consider raising taxes for education. Is Osmond committing political suicide, or does he reflect a general willingness to consider tax increases for important purposes like education?

Pignanelli: "There is no such thing as a good tax." — Winston Churchill

Sen. Osmond is a sunny, charismatic conservative well-known for including all perspectives in creating bipartisan innovations to maximize efficiency and quality in government and public education. Thus, he could be in big trouble in the darker corners of the GOP (where the real nasty spiders lurk), who despise such statesmanlike conduct. The extremists on the right and on the left (as I note below) prefer leaders that are snarling curmudgeons unwilling to compromise. These stalwarts dominate Utah's antediluvian delegate/convention system and will likely grumble about Osmond.

The senator believes Utahns will support increased resources for public education if the money is targeted to the classroom and there is tough scrutiny and accountability to ensure the money is spent wisely. This is a correct analysis of the average Utahn. Too bad the average Utahn does not select political party nominees. Those ornery delegates determine the fate of Utah's politicians and the Republican ilk are hostile to any tax hike. Legislators know this and will not pursue "revenue enhancements" anytime soon.

Webb: As an old guy who's been around Utah politics for 40 years, I was proud of Sen. Osmond. It's the most courageous position I've seen any major politician take for a long time. Utah needs a healthy, thoughtful discussion about taxes and whether we're properly funding key services that are within the proper role of government.

For many years, the notion of raising taxes has been so taboo among Republicans that it couldn't be discussed in polite company. It's time for citizens to tell their elected officials that they want this debate.

Here's the reality on taxes: Over the past couple of decades, Utah political leaders have (in most cases appropriately) cut taxes over and over again as our economy has produced healthy revenues. So Utah's overall tax burden has declined dramatically. In 1988, according to the Tax Foundation, Utah's tax burden was sixth highest in the country. In 2010, our tax burden was 29th in the country, and it's likely even lower today. So our tax effort is less, and we're paying proportionately less in taxes.

Meanwhile, education performance is in crisis, and young people today will not achieve the educational attainment of their parents — in a competitive global environment where education makes the difference between success and failure. Yes, it's time to talk about taxes.

Thomas Wright will not seek re-election as state Republican Party chair. What are the ramifications for the Utah Republican Party?

Pignanelli: Wright was an incredible leader who utilized 21st century technology in promoting conservative values while denying Democrats opportunities (darn him). He refused to just enjoy Republican dominance and recruited excellent candidates for state offices. Wright will be missed, and his replacement should indicate where the Utah GOP is heading. Some potential contenders include former state senator Dan Liljenquist, former representative Morgan Philpot and campaign technology expert Michelle Scharf.

Democrats are hoping current party Secretary Drew Chamberlain is chosen. Chamberlain sued his own party, wants to eliminate public education and publishes uncharitable insults about the first lady. "Chairman Chamberlain" or someone of similar style will drive election victories in 2014 ... to the Democrats.

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