Is Just One More Tax Increase Going to Hurt?

The following op-ed was published on October 12th in the Deseret News.

Another year, another proposal to increase taxes — and this time, it’s a group called Our Schools Now asking Utahns to raise their gas taxes in the form of Question 1 on your voting ballot.

Question 1 calls for increasing the gas tax by 10 cents to raise about $100 million for K-12 public education, $55 million for local roads, and $25 million for higher education. Question 1 would increase the gas tax rate by 33%, to about 40 cents per gallon (that’s about 59 cents if you include the federal tax).

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads, claiming we’ll only have to pay $4 a month, netting the state $150 more per student. It sure sounds nice.

But the ads conveniently forget to inform you that Utah already recently raised the gas tax by five cents. Not only that, but the gas tax has been indexed, meaning that as gas prices go up, the amount of tax you pay at the pump will also go up. In 2019, without Question 1 passing, the state gas tax rate will increase to 30 cents per gallon.

And it won’t stop there as gas prices go up.

Actually, quite a few taxes have been raised in just the past few years, not just on gas. Property taxes have increased not once, but twice. And that’s not to mention whatever your local school district or municipality has been doing with property taxes. Local and internet sales taxes have also increased, along with taxes on phones, alcohol, hotels, on and on. We’re talking about a lot more than $4 more per month.

But what about student performance? Surely these additional tax dollars provide, as some claim, an “investment in our future.”

Probably not. A study done by the Utah Legislative Fiscal Analysts shows that the correlation between funding and student performance is so weak that for Utah to make even the smallest marginal improvement on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) it would have to spend nearly $1 billion more annually. And all that new money, taken from our wallets, would still leave Utah in its current position of above average test scores.

What about reducing class size? Aren’t Utah schools overflowing with kids? Fact check: Utah’s average class size is 22. The hysteria you hear about classrooms with over 40 children has a lot more to do with Utah’s explosive growth in certain areas rather than the lack of funding.

The proponents of Question 1 have often said that Utah needs more money for education in order to pay teachers more and provide more money for programs inside the classroom.

But when looking at the actual language of the funding pot that’s been created for this $100 million, it becomes apparent that increases in teacher pay are not guaranteed. A grand total of $0 is guaranteed to go towards paying teachers more. Instead, there is a cap of how much school districts can use to pay teachers at no more than 25%. In other words, Question 1 doesn’t funnel its revenue to teachers, despite their fancy propaganda trying to say it does.

As for putting more money into the classroom, one has to wonder where the nearly $7 billion in public education funding is currently being spent. Utah parents often seem to foot an additional bill via tens of millions of dollars collected in school fees. And far too many teachers seem to have to pay for their own classroom supplies. As administrative costs continue to rise nationwide and extravagant school buildings are built around the state, one begins to wonder.

Even as the Legislature has pumped over $1 billion in new money into public education recently, not a lot has changed. The Our Schools Now compromise and Question 1 do very little to solve underlying problems—but they do perpetuate them.

Just remember what the campaign manager for Our Schools Now has said publicly: “Even $750 million isn’t enough to solve the problems that we’re in.” So why would a $100 million gas tax increase solve it? This is only the beginning, as the education establishment, business elites, and government bureaucracy continue to come knocking at your door to take more of your hard earned money.

It’s time Utah voters rejected anymore tax increases (including a $90 million sales tax increase for Medicaid Expansion via Prop 3) and instead began to hold these large government institutions accountable for the billions of dollars they already have to spend.