SALT LAKE CITY — The majority of Utahns support paying more in income taxes to provide additional money for students, teachers and classrooms, a new poll shows.
The poll, published Thursday by UtahPolicy.com, found that 64 percent of Utah voters were at least somewhat in favor of raising the personal and corporate flat-rate income tax by seven-eighths of a percent to about 6 percent overall. Thirty-one percent were either somewhat or strongly opposed to the increase, and 4 percent didn't know.
Those results came from 614 registered Utah voters surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates and the Cicero Group from June 8 to 17. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.
It echoes results from other polls as well as requests from community leaders in providing new money for Utah schools.
"Whenever you get over 60 percent, especially over time with different polls, that generally shows a consensus of the people," said Judd Nielsen, an analyst for the Cicero Group. "No matter what's happened in between, they still favor an increase in the income tax in order to fund public education more."
An income tax increase of seven-eighths of 1 percent was proposed during the legislative session this year by Education First and Prosperity 2020. The education advocacy groups asked that the tax hike be put on the November ballot, then the Legislature would decide next year, without obligation, whether to enact an increase.
The cost to individual families of that increase is still unclear and was not included in the survey question. But statewide, it would generate an estimated $518.5 million in new money for education, according to Education First.
"I would pay whatever it costs to have my children get a good shot in life with a good education, and I don't think I'm alone," said Richard Kendell, co-chairman of Education First. "Regardless of income level, I think people want the best for their kids, and if it goes to education, I think they're willing to pay it."
State revenue has already grown organically, however, as the Legislature has appropriated almost $2 billion in new money for education over the past four years without increases to the income tax.
Last year, lawmakers considered a proposal to increase the income tax rate by 1 percent, later amended to half a percent. But the proposal failed in its first House committee meeting. That same year, lawmakers passed a property tax increase that generated $75 million to balance out some funding differences among schools.
Still, Utahns indicate they want more for schools, Nielsen said.
"Utah's a very family-oriented state, and they care a lot about their children and children's education," he said. "It goes to show that even with the increase in funding, Utahns know that (in terms of) per-pupil funding, they're still among the lowest in the nation."
But polls aren't a reliable basis for passing legislation, especially when it comes to tax policy, according to Draper Republican Howard Stephenson, Senate chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee and president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Prior to last year's proposed income tax increase of 1 percent, a UtahPolicy.com poll produced different results. The survey asked: "Do you favor or oppose an increase in the state personal income tax rate, which generates about $400 million a year for public education, from 5.1 percent to 6.1 percent?"
More than 53 percent of respondents were either somewhat or strongly opposed, and only 43 percent were either somewhat or strongly in favor, give or take a 3.97 percent margin of error.
"Surveys like that are taken from people who are not prepared to give an answer," Stephenson said. "And the common (question given) is: 'Do you support these good things?' And the tendency for most people when asked without having studied the issue is to say, 'yes.'"
Stephenson said the association hasn't taken a formal position on Thursday's poll results. But more effort should be made to maximize current education dollars before raising taxes, he said. That might include giving parents and teachers options for year-round school so that school buildings aren't vacant for three months of the year.
The income tax also is also a determining factor for some industries eyeing Utah's economy as a potential place to do business. Other states with a lower or nonexistent income tax rate can be more enticing, Stephenson said.
"When you're competing for high-paying jobs, this is a big, big factor," he said.
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