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Public may vote on eliminating tax exemption to fund schools

Bill would give $400M to schools but at expense of big families

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 3:08 p.m. MDT

He suggested that the bill be written to include an advisory and oversight role of the State School Board, which would identify the most effective investments to improve student performance and allow schools to choose between those options.

"There needs to be some guard rails," he said. "I’m not going to support a program that allows them to, whatever the most wild idea that comes to the community council, to try to fund that in some way."

Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, expressed concern that the financial burden of the bill would fall disproportionately on large families.

"Families with schoolage children primarily would be the ones paying extra taxes annually to fund this," he said.

But Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, countered that point by saying that large families gain the most from improvements to the education system.

"It is true that for the most part this is funded by families, but it is families who get the greatest benefit," she said. "What would be better for the families of our state than to have a better education system?"

Jones emphasized that the bill would not raise the tax rate but would broaden the tax base by eliminating a specific tax exemption. Currently one-third of Utah households pay no state income tax as a result of exemptions, she said, adding that her bill would reaffirm Utah's values as a state that supports education and personal responsibility.

"I think we need to start looking at education as one of our top values in our state," Jones said. "We have to do something about it. We have to invest and it can’t be looked upon as a punishment."

While the specific costs would vary by household, Jones said the average cost of her bill for a family of four would be $400 each year that would otherwise be exempted. The bill would maintain an effective income tax rate of 5 percent or lower, and on average would provide $400,000 for each elementary school, $700,000 for each middle school and $1 million for each high school.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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