Nonbinding Opinion Question #1

Raising the Gas Tax for Education Funds

Summary

Sponsor: Utah State Legislature and Our Schools Now

HJR20 is the bill that will direct the lieutenant governor to present a nonbinding opinion question to voters to determine whether the voters support an increase in the motor and special fuel tax rates by an equivalent of 10 cents per gallon for public education and local roads.

"YES" Vote Means

Advising the State Legislature to pass a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon to support education and local road construction.

"NO" Vote Means

Utah’s gas tax will remain the same; no additional revenue will be generated for public education from these sources.

Arguments in Support

  • Education funding serves as an investment in Utah’s economic future, producing the skilled workforce necessary to attract new industries to the state and remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy.
  • Utah is the “youngest” state in the nation, with school-age children making up 31% of its population. It is also among the fastest-growing states, with the highest birth rate in the nation. These demographic trends signal a need for increased school funding to pay for increasing student enrollments.
  • For more than three decades, Utah has been ranked last in the nation in spending on public education per pupil. Our Schools Now will not only increase that funding but will also hold schools accountable for how those funds are used. By requiring schools to develop concrete goals and strategies for increasing academic achievement, the initiative sets them up to succeed.

Arguments Against

  • Increasing the tax on gas by 10 percent is equivalent to a 33% increase which could substantially influence budgeting for commuting costs.
  • Increasing school funding does not guarantee better student outcomes, especially when there is a chance that the funds will be absorbed by the educational bureaucracy before they can reach the classroom.

The Our Schools Now movement began to attract support in early 2017. The organization is co-chaired by Zion’s Bank President & CEO Scott Anderson, Questar retired Chairman & CEO Ron Jibson, and Larry H. Miller Group Owner Gail Miller, along with a steering committee of over 60 Utah business leaders, educators and former politicians. The mission of Our Schools Now is to increase funding for schools, therefore, increasing access to high-quality education thus improving local communities, individual opportunity, and Utah’s economy. 

Expanding on this goal the organization put together the Teacher and Student Success Act which called for an increase in sales tax and income tax over the course of three years, totaling 715 million, with the funds of the tax being deposited into either the existing Performance Funding Restricted Account or the Teacher and Student Success Act Restricted Fund. The Act also includes a framework demonstrating how the funds should be allocated and used. Our Schools Now heald a series of public hearings to educate the public on the initiative and to generate more support and emphasize the application of funds directly to Utah classrooms.

As a result of these hearings and the accumulation of supporters, Our Schools Now was able to gather the number of signatures needed to get the Act on the ballot of this November. However, after negotiations between lawmakers and Our Schools Now in March a compromise was developed which would allocate “about 375 million in annual funding for schools after 5 years by freezing statewide property tax and by asking voters to approve a 10 cent-per-gallon gas tax”.

The compromise meant lawmakers would have just enough time to pass two bills:HB491, which would allow a one-time process to go to voters with a ballot question, andHJR20, which is the bill with the gas tax question that will be asked on the ballot this November.

 Our Schools Now previously proposed a tax increase of 0.45% which would have a total fiscal impact of $700 million annually – providing about $1,000 per student annually, and costing the median household about $35 per month. However, this plan was abandoned after the compromise over a potential gas tax with the legislature. The 10 cent increase in price is equivalent to a 33% increase.

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Information regarding the initiative was taken directly from the initiative application. Arguments and lists of important groups were taken from newspapers, websites, and groups. Citations are embedded directly in the text.

Think the info is biased? Want us to add something? Send us an email at info@betterutah.org. We’ll be sure to respond and address any concerns.