Gov. Mike Leavitt's campaign promise not to raise taxes, while politically correct, should not stand in the way of a decision on whether to sign or veto SB199, a school capital outlay equalization bill.
The governor has until next Tuesday to decide whether to put his stamp of approval on the legislation, which proponents say will help school districts with the poorest tax bases to better meet building needs for growing numbers of students.The legislation would help to reduce major disparities in the districts' wealth per pupil. The disparities have a major impact on the ability of districts to construct and maintain education facilities.
Lawmakers tried to deal with the problem last year and produced a flawed piece of legislation that has become known as the Robin Hood bill. The complex measure falls too heavily on some districts and not at all on others.
By contrast, SB199 would require all school districts to contribute 2 mills of local tax revenue to a pool, phased in over four years.
The funds would be used to help poorer districts that have trouble raising enough money to support a basic education program. Some districts would be able to make their contribution from existing tax revenues, but others would have to boost taxes.
While there are many merits to the bill, the public should realize that SB199 means an almost certain hike in property taxes in many of the state's 40 school districts.
The Utah Taxpayers Association reacted strongly to the bill during the final days of the 1993 Legislature, saying the legislation had the potential to generate the biggest tax increase to arise out of the session.
The association distributed material showing that SB199 could add about $27 to the taxes on a $100,000 home at the end of the four-year phase-in.
But the measure apparently would not affect taxpayers any harder overall than the controversial Robin Hood law of 1992. Supporters of SB199 say it spreads the tax burden more equally over all districts, builds an equalization pool more quickly and will offer more assistance faster to financially troubled districts.
Advocates say that equalization from the pool - approximately $22 million over four years - would go to school districts least able to generate tax income from their property base. That will level present inequities, according to Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, the bill's sponsor.
The amount of property tax paid to benefit schools varies greatly. The fact that the majority of Utah's school children - 70 to 80 percent - reside in districts that are poorest and growing fast contributes to funding problems, according to state schools Superintendent Scott Bean.
Leavitt has said his decision on whether to approve SB199 would be "the toughest I have to make about this session." It's good to be able to keep campaign promises, but the governor should not use that excuse to allow a bad law to remain on the books by vetoing SB199.