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Proposed Amendment Would Bar Higher Ed from Using Income Tax Revenue

Brian Grimmett

Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis says it’s time to make Kindergarten through 12th grade public education the sole beneficiary of state income tax revenues. That will require an amendment to the Utah Constitution.

Utah’s corporate and individual income taxes used to go exclusively to the state’s K through 12 education program. But in 1996, voters passed a constitutional amendment to allow that money to go to higher education as well. It was billed as an effort to increase flexibility in the budget process. But Senator Jim Dabakis says the amendment has shifted money into other projects. In the 90’s Utah was among the list of states with the highest percentage of income spent on education. Now the state is dead last.

“Try teaching a high school kid or a junior high school kid trigonometry or algebra with 40 children in the classroom. It’s impossible,” Dabakis says. “We are kidding ourselves. What my bill does is it fundamentally changes the paradigm of education in the state and I don’t hear anybody else talking about a serious vision.”

Dabakis proposes the state increase Utah’s income and severance tax rates to pay for the change. He says he doesn’t have any Republicans on board with the plan just yet.

Higher Education Commissioner Dave Buhler says his primary concern is that higher education needs are met.

“I think it makes sense for the legislature and governor to have some flexibility and bottom line if we’re going to have an education fund, it should fund public higher education as well as public K through 12,” Buhler says.

A constitutional amendment requires support from two-thirds of the state legislature and a majority of voters. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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