SALT LAKE CITY - A Senate panel has moved forward legislation that would change Utah's current income tax deduction system to provide more money for Utah's schools.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-2 on Monday to move forward S.B. 118, sponsored by Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, which caps the amount of dependent deductions a taxpayer can use at two -- meaning those with larger families will pay more in their state income tax -- to provide more money for the public school system.
"In Utah, the way we pay for public education is backwards. The more a family takes advantage of the public education system, the less they pay," Jones said. "Those that use the public education system most should share responsibility for paying for it."
Jones' proposal would add an estimated $267 million to Utah's education system. She told the committee that her proposal would mean approximately $300,000 more for Utah's elementary schools, $400,000 for middle schools and an additional $700,000 for the state's high schools.
The money would be sent directly to the schools and appropriation of the money would be decided by the schools' local community councils. A small part of the money would be used to train the community councils on how to use the new dollars.
The bill is a modification to Jones' original plan. Her first proposal sought to eliminate all of the dependent deductions from the income tax system but she substituted her legislation to include two deductions. Her original legislation would have raised $400 million for Utah's schools.
Jones said the community councils could choose to use the money for what was deemed most critical. She explained that the money could be used to hire reading or math specialists, full-time or part-time teachers to provide professional development activities for instructors, nurses, librarians or whatever the school needed.
"One of the benefits of this bill is it would create meaningful jobs in every Utah community," Jones said.
Jones made clear to the committee, and the public, that she was simply looking to alter the dependent deduction. She stated there were still many deductions Utah taxpayers can take advantage of when they file their annual income tax forms such as the charitable donation deduction. She estimated that the hit on an average family in Utah would be about $143 per year if her proposal were to pass and be signed by the governor.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, voted against the legislation as he had concerns that it would have a significant impact on Utah's lower income families. He wondered if the legislation could be improved by the addition of a "circuit breaker" that would stop the tax hike from taking place on the lower income families of the state.
The Utah Taxpayers Association also spoke out against the bill. Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the association, called the proposal one of the largest tax increases in the history of the state and wondered if there was any proof that additional money in schools actually led to better results in the classroom. Van Tassell said the state should evaluate how it is currently spending its money on education and see if it could be done in a more efficient and effective manner.
The bill now moves forward to be considered by the full body of the Senate.