Should income-tax revenues, which have traditionally been earmarked for the public school system, be used to some extent for higher education?
The question arises because of an opinion this week by the Utah attorney general's office that opens the way to such a switch.It is, however, a switch that would be folly.
To make the switch, the Legislature would have to amend state statute "to provide that not all revenues from state income taxes are allocated to the Uniform School Fund and the revenues not so allocated would be available to support other schools, institutions or programs in the `public education system' or the `higher education' system," according to the 11-page report written by Assistant Attorneys General Bryce Pettey and Brent Cameron.
Gov. Norm H. Bangerter asked for the opinion last summer to find out what alternatives might be available just in case Utah voters eliminated the sales tax on food. Wisely, they defeated that plan. Wisely, too, Bangerter has no intention of encouraging a change in the law.
"The governor," says chief of staff Bud Scruggs, "remains steadfast in his commitment that until we do a better job of education funding, we ought not to raid education funds."
Utah pays less per child into the public education system than any other state in the country. Dipping into that money, even for such a closely related and worthwhile program as higher education, wouldn't make sense.
Utah lawmakers should protect the tradition that has earmarked income tax moneys for the public schools - at least until the state finds a way to bolster the funding of the public school system.
The education of children benefits everyone - including the childless. Not everyone will go on to institutions of higher education. But we all have a decided interest in public schools.
That's where our income taxes should still go.