February 9, 2015

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Let’s Put Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

Article

Let’s Put Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

February 9, 2015

The 2015 Legislative Session is well underway, and we’ve already had the usual pleas for additional funding for education and the standard refusal to generate new tax revenue to pay for it.

I get it. Not many people would raise their hand and volunteer to pay extra taxes. I would certainly not be excited to see my tax bill increase. But I also have a son who will be entering kindergarten in the fall, and I have serious concerns about the quality of education he is going to receive.

According to a recent report from the Utah Foundation, Utah is slipping when it comes to higher education graduation rates. The state ranks 39th among states for on-time graduation, and only 47 percent of students in public, four-year colleges graduate within six years. In fact, only half of Utah’s graduating high school seniors even start on post-secondary education to begin with.

In December, Gov. Gary Herbert proposed a state budget that included the largest increase for student funding in the past 25 years. His budget calls for $502 million in new funds for public and higher education. And, with revenue forecasts projecting $638 million in new funds for this fiscal year, Herbert isn’t calling for new tax revenue to pay for his proposal.

But some in the business community are backing away from a rigid anti-tax stance, calling for meaningful investments in Utah’s public education system in order to ensure the state’s continued economic prosperity. The Salt Lake Chamber, for example, came out strong in support of education investments—even if that entails new taxes.

“This is the chamber of commerce. We hate taxes. We don’t like them. We would just as soon have less government,” said Salt Lake Chamber CEO Lane Beattie during a recent press conference covered by Utah Business editor Lisa Christensen. “But what we are saying as a business community unified across the entire state is now is the time for [the Legislature] to look at every place they can to solve it.”

In addition to the chamber, groups like Prosperity 2020, Education First and United Way of Salt Lake are all calling for a renewed focus—and greater investments—in education.

I truly hope those calls are heeded this year. Through the recession, as state coffers dwindled, leaders emphasized the need to do more with less—and Utah’s educators took that challenge on heroically. But now it’s time to do more with more.

The Utah Foundation reports the tax burden for Utahns is at its lowest in the last 20 years. If there ever was a good time to generate revenue, it’s now. Taxes are at an historic low, the state has a nice budget surplus to play with, the economy is strong and the business community is hurting for skilled workers. Let’s make that investment this year—before the momentum evaporates.

What is your priority for the 2015 Legislative Session? I’d love to know what’s on your mind. Share your thoughts with me at heather@utahbusiness.com.

From the Editor
Heather Dawn Stewart

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