Coming legislative decisions could impact your food, gas, schools and job

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26 2013 1:30 p.m. MST

Children participate in pre-kindergarten activity with teacher Wilenys Lastre at the YMCA of Taylorsville Thursday, September 8, 2011.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

After meeting with Utahns of all walks of life, Deseret News editors have identified five key issues that matter to Utah families. These issues, each interrelated with the others, will be addressed in the 2013 session of the Utah Legislature. Take a look at five issues that matter to Utah families.

SALT LAKE CITY — There are new worries that state revenues may end up falling far short of projections and stall action on issues key to Utah families, as lawmakers ready for the start of the 2013 Legislature on Monday.

“We could see this going south,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said. “We could have a deficit, so we have to cautiously, very cautiously, look at any expenditure increases.”

That caution could have big impacts on spending, including for initiatives aimed at helping Utah families prepare their children for school and careers, enjoy a stronger economy, access health care and deal with the lingering impacts of poverty.

While Niederhauser and other leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature expressed frustration at the prospect of a lean budget year, they also made it clear they’d rather cut spending than raise taxes.

“That’s what families have to do when their income goes down,” House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said. “They don’t have the ability to tax or take it from other people. They live within their means.”

But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, who also serves as the state Democratic Party chairman, said it’s time for lawmakers to take a look at raising Utah’s income tax to fund education.

“What we don’t have is the political guts to look the parents and the taxpayers of the state in the eye and say, ‘You know what, it’s been generations since we have properly funded education.’″

The recently appointed senator said Utahns need to be told that caring about their children and being seen as a family-friendly state means “we’re going to have to pay a little more.”

Another Salt Lake Democrat, Rep. Brian King, said he’s making another run at raising income tax rates on the rich to benefit schools. His proposal, still being drafted, would boost the 5 percent flat rate set in 2007 to 6 percent on earnings over $250,000 and 7 percent on earnings over $1 million. 

“I’m tired of what I think is just a lack of political will to do what we need to do to take care of our kids,” King said, acknowledging it may take several legislative sessions to rally support for a tax increase.

King said he wasn’t worried that higher marginal rates might discourage high-income taxpayers from living in Utah. That concern helped convince lawmakers to lower the then-top rate of 7 percent under former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

“I guarantee you we’re going to get more jobs by having a higher quality education system than we’re going to lose by having high taxes,” he said.

House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake, agreed all options for funding schools need to be on the table, including raising taxes, especially in such an uncertain budget year.

“We are dealing with difficult times, we are dealing with challenging times,” Seelig said. “The people want a high quality of education. To continue to fund it at the levels are funding it at is embarrassing.”

The dilemma

Economic development officials sell the state on the strength of Utah's workforce, often pitched as among the nation's best-educated. But there are questions as to whether Utah students can keep up with the business world's changing needs, especially in technology.

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