Voters resoundingly rejected a proposed gasoline tax increase to boost funding for Utah schools in Tuesday’s election, but advocates say they’re not done fighting for more money for the state’s education system.
Early results Tuesday night showed two-thirds of voters opposed the nonbinding opinion question while just 34 percent were in favor.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Austin Cox, executive director of Our Schools Now, the group pushing the measure. “This is a very complicated and complex policy proposal to get through to the public.”
The nonbinding question was a way for state lawmakers to gauge public support for raising the fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon to help offset growing road maintenance needs, which for years has cut into school funding.
Question 1 began as a ballot initiative that would have hiked the state sales tax rate to contribute more than $700 million for schools. Earlier this year, Our Schools Now organizers worked out a deal with the Utah Legislature to place the gas tax on the ballot as a nonbinding question and abandoned the initiative.
“It was an uphill battle from that point,” Cox said.
He cited a few reasons for the failure, including confusion about using a fuel tax to fund education and voter reservation about the nonbinding nature of the question.
“Those factors all taken together really makes it difficult. But the challenges in public education remain,” Cox said.
“We’re still last in the nation in per-pupil spending. We still have a record number of teachers turning over each year,” he said. “So we still need to find a better proposal than the gas tax to make sure that we’re investing in public education.”
As part of its compromise with Our Schools Now earlier this year, lawmakers voted to freeze the statewide property tax rate for five years, which would generate about $375 million for schools.
“That will help,” Cox said, “but continued investment increases [are] necessary.”
He said Our Schools Now’s coalition of education, business and political leaders will remain intact and continue to look push for more funding for Utah’s public schools.