Education bill for long-term public education funding denied

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    By Natalie Aldridge

    A bill that was set to reform Utah”s tax system in order to give almost $80 million in additional funding to the public education system was killed in committee Monday, Feb. 23, 2004.

    The bill, sponsored by Reps. Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights, and Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, was a bipartisan effort to secure long-term funding for public education in Utah. The bill itself would have phased out tax exemptions for dependents, eliminated the federal tax deduction on state returns and nearly doubled the income tax brackets.

    Sponsors said the bill would have generated $79 million with an additional $9 million per year in growth — all that would have been funneled into an education block grant.

    The bill appeared before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and was debated for more than an hour before failing by a 6-8 vote.

    Clark Snelson, a tax attorney, said the bill was the best legislation he had seen in 14 years.

    “What is critical about this bill is that it supplies ongoing support for education,” Snelson said.

    Support for education in the form of funding is badly needed, said Pat Russ, representative with the Utah Education Association.

    “We continue to ask more of the public education system but haven”t provided the funding — these bills do,” she said.

    While there were enthusiastic supporters at the meeting, many voiced their opinions against the legislation. Critics said the bill would have phased out exemptions for children and increased the tax burden for families of above-average size and income in the state. The bill would have penalized families with more than four children by removing exemptions.

    Janie Brown, a mother of seven children, said the bill was “child-unfriendly.”

    “This is a thinly-veiled assault on middle-class families,” she said.

    Mascaro said he had secured a majority of committee members who were willing to send the bill to the House floor for debate, but several had changed their minds.

    “I am absolutely upset,” Mascaro said. “Education funding has been so crystal clear from the public as the No. 1 issue they wanted addressed this session.”

    Jones echoed Mascaro”s disappointment and said she, too, was hoping the bill would at least make it to the floor for debate.

    “It seems fair and reasonable to the public so I don”t know why it doesn”t seem fair and reasonable to our elected officials,” Jones said.

    The sponsors said they will be back with the proposal next session if re-elected.

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