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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Utah Gubernatorial Candidates Differ On How To Increase Education Funding During Debate

Trent Nelson
Salt Lake Tribune

Utah has the lowest per-pupil spending of any state in the country and both major candidates for governor want to increase school funding without raising taxes.

But Democrat Chris Peterson and Republican Spencer Cox disagreed on the best way to do that during a debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission Tuesday evening.

Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, said, instead, he would change the tax structure.

“We made a big mistake when we went to a flat tax where the very most wealthy people who are making $2 million a year are paying the same income tax rate as a single mom who's just barely fighting to get by,” he said.

Peterson added that he would re-evaluate tax incentives.

“We need to make sure that those tax incentives, dollar for dollar, reflect our values in comparison to what we could have spent on public schools,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said he wants to examine “unnecessary and ostentatious” construction in schools.

“We have the revenue sources,” Cox said. “We just need to prioritize them and take advantage of some that we're missing out on.”

He added that he would also push to get tax revenue from federal lands in the state.

“The federal government is not paying their fair share for those lands, and that has to change,” he said. “Those are dollars that will go straight into the education fund and make a difference in the lives of our children.”

Voters will get a chance to weigh in on a substantial change to education funding this November. Amendment G changes the state’s constitution to allow money earmarked for education to also go to support programs for children and people with disabilities.

The amendment passed the state Legislature earlier this year as a compromise between lawmakers and education stakeholders, and includes a corresponding piece of legislation that creates an education reserve account and expands what schools can spend local property taxes on.

The package of legislation was marketed as a solution to what Republican lawmakers said is a revenue imbalance between the education fund and the general fund.

“There were promises that were made to teachers, to educators, to parents during the negotiations on Amendment G,” Cox said. “As your governor, I will make sure that those promises are kept.”

But Peterson said he would be voting against Amendment G this election.

“My concern is that it's going to start to create competitions between disabled people and the public school kids,” Peterson said. “Let's just fund both of them.”

The general election is Nov. 3. All registered voters should receive a mail-in ballot, and all counties are required to haveat least one in-person polling location.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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