MURRAY — In the few weeks leading up to November's general election, supporters of a ballot initiative for education funding are redoubling their efforts to gain public approval, hitting the streets Saturday to go door to door.
Voters will be asked if they support raising the gas tax by 10 cents to generate dollars for public education. That increase would raise an estimated $180 million in the first full budget year.
The question, while non-binding, would stimulate action by the Utah Legislature in a special session should it gain voter support, said Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews.
Matthews said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who has given his nod of support to the effort, would call a special session to pass legislation enacting the tax provision.
Herbert's public education adviser, Tami Pyfer, spoke at a Saturday rally outside the UEA's headquarters in Murray, indicating she was there on her own time and dime, but stressed the importance of the ballot question.
"He (Herbert) is all in on education. He supports your effort. I support your effort."
Voters remain split on the issue, however. A UtahPolicy.com poll showed 50 percent of Utahns support raising the gas tax for education, while 47 percent of those polled say they are opposed.
The ballot question is the result of a compromise struck between lawmakers and backers of the former Our Schools Now initiative, which sought a sales and state income tax boost to garner an additional $700 million for education.
Matthews on Saturday said the ballot question is not perfect, but rather the result of hard work over more than two years to direct more dollars to the classroom.
Our Schools Now had sought a "filet mignon" solution to public education funding, and the ballot question is meatloaf, she said.
"But it is darn good meatloaf," she added. "This is a good, collaborative step toward progress."
The rally brought out Eric Brown, a member of the executive committee of the National Education Association, who energized the crowd with a passionate speech about education.
"We are not going to apologize for the great public education all students deserve," he said. "Let's make this the year of education in Utah."