Whether you're an educator, a private taxpayer or both, Gov. Norm Bangerter's plans for the $84 million revenue surplus will give you something to smile about.
Taxpayers would receive checks totaling as much as $130 as early as August if Bangerter's plan to rebate the surplus is adopted by the Legislature during a special session July 18 and 19. Bangerter wants taxpayers to receive 12.5 percent of their income tax payment in 1987 or $10, whichever is higher.Bangerter would also dip into an additional $30 million surplus from property tax and various other sources to return $10 million to education. Public education would garner a total of $7 million for textbooks and to make up for a shortfall in the weighted pupil unit caused by falling property values. Higher education would get $3 million for books and equipment.
The remaining $20 million would go into the state's "rainy day" fund to help mitigate any future budgetary shortfalls. "We think we should have something in the sock so we won't have to reduce budgets in the future," Bangerter said.
The governor also proposes a permanent, 5 percent across-the-board reduction in the income tax rate. He also wants to return one-third of the federal deductibility, which allows taxpayers to deduct their federal income tax bite on their state tax return.
Bangerter said he chose a rebate, which would cost about 40 cents per check, instead of a tax credit because he believes there is no reason to hang onto the money when it's ultimately going to have to be returned.
"It makes no sense for us to keep that money until April 15, 1989, just to send it back," the governor said.
Reminded once again that his political opponents have characterized a refund as an attempt to boost his election chances in November, Bangerter responded that he is merely keeping faith with the people.
And besides, "I've found my political opponents will say most anything," the governor quipped.
Bangerter was also asked if he'd taken account of those who want all of the surplus to go to education. A Deseret News/KSL TV poll shows a total of 54 percent want the state to keep the surplus. Thirty-eight percent want it spent on education, while another 16 percent want it kept for future needs. Another 18 percent want the refund, while 14 percent want an income-tax credit on their 1988 income tax returns. Twelve percent had other suggestions and 2 percent didn't know.
"I think when they get the checks, they'll be glad to have it," the governor said, noting that those who feel so inclined can send the checks back and take it as a credit on next year's income tax.
Asked if the opposition from Democrats who don't want a special session would keep it from happening, Bangerter said only, "They'll come back."
Dr. Wm. Rolfe Kerr, commissioner of higher education, said he is pleased with Bangerter's proposal to give the state's universities and colleges a little boost.
"We have some very real needs for library and instructional equipment and hope that the Legislature will support the governor's recommendations," he said. "These funds will be a direct benefit to students and to the teaching and research capability of our faculties."
Although the $3 million proposed for higher education would be welcome, Kerr said, it wouldn't "scratch the surface of our needs, we're so far behind on our library holdings and instructional equipment." The money would be apportioned among the nine institutions of higher education based on budget formulas.
Dr. James R. Moss, state superintendent of public education, also hailed Bangerter's proposal to share the windfall with education, and said he hopes the plan will set a precedent for tax surpluses in the future.
"We hope that the governor and Legislature will use this approach to restore what they find it necessary to cut from education funding, if there are surpluses," Moss said. "We hope to establish a pattern to follow in the future."
The $4 million for textbooks was promised by the Legislature during its January/February session and would help alleviate a dire need in the schools, but not entirely resolve the problem, he said. The need for computers and other technology also is increasing and needs attention.
Moss also said he is worried that Utah's schools are facing a $50 million problem in meeting new federal requirements for asbestos abatement. Earlier, he had proposed to Bangerter that the schools get some help in this area from tax surpluses.
Utah officials have joined with others throughout the country to try to move back the deadline for compliance. The Environmental Protection Agency has demanded that schools survey their buildings for asbestos and have plans ready by Oct. 12 to deal with the material.
Moss said the governor's proposed "rainy day" fund might be a source of help for this one-time need of the schools, if the states can't prevail on the federal agency to move back the deadline and loosen what they see as overly stringent abatement requirements. The EPA says it will fine schools that are out of compliance $5,000 per day.
Regardless of continuing needs that won't be touched by the distribution of the 1988 surplus, Moss said he is "deeply grateful" for the help the money represents.