The Utah State Legislature Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force began the first step of a massive tax restructuring process with a town hall in Brigham City on Tuesday.
It was the first of eight scheduled public engagement events to take place across the state in an effort to take suggestions, hear concerns and review ways to address what the task force is calling the state’s “outdated and imbalanced tax structure.”
In a crowd of over 150 citizens, several constituents expressed their diverse opinions during the public comment portion of the task force’s first town hall on tax reform in Utah. One key issue in particular, funding for K-12 public education, was raised repeatedly by speakers and should be expected to prevail throughout the public engagement tour.
Under the current tax system, income tax revenue is reserved for education, which comprises over half of the state budget. Due to economic and demographic changes in Utah, the other revenue silos for non-education programs are not meeting the demand, according to legislators. Though the state is facing an array of challenges including housing, transportation and air quality, advocates for more education funding - including Heidi Matthews, President of the Utah Education Association - advise citizens not to be misled by this depiction of education funding.
“It suggests that education is funded very well and is robust,” she explained, “but the reality is that we are the lowest per pupil funding in the nation, and it’s misleading to suggest that we are flushed with funds.”
Utah spends on average the least per student in the entire United States. Educators, like Matthews, are concerned possible tax reform could reduce or impede the K-12 funding currently guaranteed by provisions of the state constitution.
“We want our state to be prosperous, and we want all the needs of our students and citizens to be met, but we do not want a tax structure that’s on the backs of our students,” she said.
The bottom line, according to Matthews, is the state needs more revenue, and for the value of education to be reflected in the state budget.
“Education is a value we share across our state in all of our families and is essential for the success of our state and our individual kids.“
Matthews says the UEA will advocate at each of the town halls across the state wearing red for education. For more information and a complete list of upcoming town halls, visit http://strongerfutures.utah.gov.