Teachers protest tax plan as governor calls session

Moab teachers protested Monday and Wednesday, with another planned protest on Thursday. To oppose state tax reform. Photo by Anothony Militano

Members of Moab’s teachers’ union gathered before school Monday, Dec. 9, to affirm concerns about state lawmakers’ recent efforts to restructure Utah’s tax code. Their primary contention, according to an organizer with the Grand Education Association, is that the proposal does not include a plan for maintaining funding of Utah schools.

Hours before a legislative task force voted to advance its tax reform proposal Monday, local teachers, students and parents gathered to display signs in support of investing in public education and against the proposal, which they fear may yield an erosion of the funding of K-12 education.

Libby Bailey, who is in charge of communications coordination for the Grand Education Association and is also a kindergarten teacher at Helen M. Knight Elementary School, spoke to The Times-Independent Monday after the demonstration.

Bailey said that her primary concern, and that of many of her colleagues, was what she said is a lack of an explicit plan for supporting Utah’s education funding. She also said she was worried that property taxes could rise as a result of the tax restructuring, putting a greater tax liability on local property owners.

“What we haven’t heard is how we’re going to maintain the integrity of our schools,” Bailey said, who called the plan “intentionally ambiguous” on the topic of education funding.

Legislative staff, however, say that the shifts in tax revenues would actually result in an increase in the funding of public education.

While income taxes in Utah currently help to pay for both K-12 education and higher education, the proposal would shift higher education funding from the income tax fund to the general fund, accounting for the proposed decrease to income tax revenues, according to Aundrea Peterson, director of communications for the Utah Senate.

“The legislature recognizes the need for education funding and has no intention of decreasing the current level of funding,” Peterson said. “In fact, with the revenue estimates that were announced Friday [Dec. 6], additional funding for education is anticipated.”

Theses promises, however, do not seem to be appeasing educators and school administrators. The Salt Lake City School Board wrote in an Op-Ed for The Salt Lake Tribune Monday, Dec. 9, that they, too, were concerned about the proposal.

“We’ve been promised that public education will be held harmless, but that’s not enough,” the board members wrote. “We need significant improvements, and we need for all students to be held harmless.”

The SLC school board cited an increase to the grocery tax proposed in recent draft proposals from the task force as an example of how low-income students in Utah would be harmed by the proposal; the increase would take grocery taxes from the current rate of 1.75 percent to a new rate of 4.85 percent.

Accompanying that proposal in the draft legislation is a proposed grocery tax credit that families would receive during tax filing season. The new tax credit would nominally offset the effect of the higher grocery tax – i.e., on paper, it would be a net gain for most low-income households. Nonetheless, the proposal would likely increase month-to-month costs for low-income households already living on thin margins.

The proposal passed Monday by the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force now goes to the full house and senate of the Utah Legislature. Lawmakers and the governor have called for a special session to focus strictly on the proposal, which has been months in the making, on Thursday, Dec. 12. The state’s next full legislative session is scheduled to begin in just over a month, on Jan. 27.