By BENJAMIN WOOD | The Salt Lake Tribune
FIRST PUBLISHED First Published Jan 25 2017 08:00PM • Last Updated Jan 25 2017 10:48 pm
The Our Schools Now ballot initiative is working to lift Utah's income tax rate from 5 percent to 5.875 percent, a shift that would raise $750 million for public education.
But one lawmaker says the problem isn't that the tax rate is too low, the problem is that it is too flat.
Before asking all Utahns to pay a higher rate, Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis said, the state should turn to its wealthy citizens to fund schools.
"That great sucking sound you heard is money flying out of our schools and into the pockets of the Romneys and the Huntsmans," Dabakis said.
Dabakis is preparing legislation that would change Utah's flat tax to a two-tiered system, with individuals making more than $250,000 and couples making more than $500,000 taxed at a rate of 7 percent. The change would affect about 18,000 taxpayers, Dabakis said, and raise $287 million for the state's Education Fund.
It would raise slightly more than one-third the amount Our Schools Now hopes to generate, but Dabakis says the initiative is "premature" until the flat tax is adjusted.
"Before anybody goes back to those hardworking middle-class Utahns and asks for money," he said. "We need to go back to those who have greatly benefited, the 1 percent, the super rich, and say 'pay your fair share'."
Organizers of the Our Schools Now initiative have repeatedly said that a legislative solution to school funding would be preferable to a public vote.
Rich Kendell, co-chairman of Education First, which is pushing the ballot initiative for 2018, said he appreciates Dabakis' interest in the issue but would need to look into the proposal before expressing support or opposition.