School districts in which taxpayers are willing to pay additional income taxes to improve their education systems should have that opportunity, Rep. Nolan Karras, R-Roy, said Wednesday.
Karras discussed with members of the Administration and Management Subcommittee the essential points of a bill he has prefiled for the 1989 Legislative session. The bill would create "super districts" or, as the legislators preferred to term them, "lighthouse" districts with more money than normal to operate schools - supposedly leading to greater excellence.HB2 would allow voters in a school district to petition for a special ballot by obtaining the signatures of 10 percent of those who cast ballots in the previous general election.
With the required signatures, or by action of the local school board, an election could be held authorizing a surtax on income of up to 10 percent of the cost of the basic state-supported school program. If passed, the surtax would be imposed on all taxpayers in the school district.
School districts already have the leeway to levy additional taxes up to 10 mills of the local property tax. That option creates significant differences in the amount of money spent on each child in the various districts, Karras said.
The additional flexibility created by being able to increase the income tax in a district would be especially useful if voters approve proposed tax initiatives that will be on the ballot this fall, he said.
"Let districts who want to accept the additional tax burden do so," he urged subcommittee members. The subcommittee voted to pass the issue to the full Education Committee with a favorable recommendation.
Karras even suggested the state might want to provide incentives for those districts that opted to put additional money into education, matching the surtax to some degree. However, he said, his bill does not contain such a provision at this point.
"It's not set in concrete," he said. He added he expects the issue to be one of the key debates in the 1989 session next winter.
The question of equitable funding for school districts was raised. The state has spent considerable time and effort to assure that gross inequities don't lead to substandard education in poorer districts.
"Twenty-two of our districts don't even have a voted leeway (on property taxes) and they are some that are in the most difficulty," said Rep. Jed W. Wasden, R-Midvale. "Would we be creating an elite-vs.-non-elite system?"
Park City businessman Randy Fields, who argued for a voted increase in income taxes, said that over time, the option would likely be adopted in all districts as the benefits became apparent.
He said those benefits would include such items as increased property values and development of exceptional education systems that would attract businesses to school districts that showed a willingness to make an extra effort for education.