King said it's the increased concern from the business community about the preparedness of Utah students that may finally spur action on taxes, rather than pressure from parents and educators.
Too many politicians put education at the top of their priority list then dismiss the call for more funding, King said. "I'm sick of having people talk ad nauseum about education," he said. "We have a lot of bluster. We don't have a lot of walking the walk."
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said taxes should not be raised now — or maybe ever.
An increase in income taxes is "absolutely not inevitable," the governor said, even though Utah's high birthrate and large families mean public education needs will continue to climb.
Economic growth is the key to keeping up with the state's needs, Herbert has said again and again. "Tax policy does make a difference," he said. "I think we've found a pretty good, optimum place to be."
The governor said making sure Utah remains attractive to companies seeking to relocate or expand will keep government coffers filled. His budget contains no tax or fee increases.
"It's how you pay the bills. You pay your bills because you have a job. You need to create more jobs for others to pay their bills. As we create economic expansion and growth to produce additional dollars, there's more revenues to pay the government's bills," he said.
Herbert said it's economic growth, not a tax increase, that will provide more money for schools that can be targeted to better prepare students for work. A tax increase, the governor said, could slow the economy enough to actually produce less revenue.
The national mood
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said it's even harder for lawmakers to raise taxes at a time when conservatives around the country are pushing Washington for spending cuts.
"It doesn't encourage state legislators to want to say, 'Here's a way we can get more resources for the problems of the state' because in part I think what they're doing is looking at this national debate and saying, 'We're coming down heavily on the keep taxes low and cut spending side of this,'″ Burbank said.
But a new survey by the University of Utah’s Center for Public Policy and Administration found that 55 percent of the state’s voters would favor an income tax hike “knowing the moneys are devoted to public education.”
The center’s director, Jennifer Robinson, said Utahns see the link between paying more in taxes and making more money available to schools.
“Utahns are always supportive of education. There’s nothing new there. What's new is the connection,” Robinson said. “Now there’s a willingness to increase taxes.”
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, said he’s drafting a bill to give those Utahns who say they’re willing to pay more in income taxes for schools the opportunity, through including a contribution with their tax returns.
“My bill will let them prove it,” Thatcher said. “I’m not going to force people to pay more, but if they want to, they’re welcome to. I don’t know how successful it will be. I don’t know how many people will volunteer to pay more.”
He said many taxpayers are still struggling in the current economy and “to turn around and make it harder for them to put food on the table, even for education, is not something I’m willing to do.”
Food and gas
The University of Utah survey found less support for two other tax measures that reach directly into the home and which are expected to be raised during the upcoming session: restoring the state sales tax on food and indexing the gas tax so rates will keep pace with inflation.
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