SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker unveiled a plan Friday to derail the Our Schools Now ballot initiative that would raise taxes to better fund public education.
Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said the Legislature could funnel some $700 million to education over the next three years without a tax hike.
Lawmakers have put $830 million into education the past three years — a 20-percent increase — and Schultz said he believes they could continue to do the same in the future.
"This year we have huge increased revenue projections. We can do this without the tax increase," he said.
Our Schools Now seeks to ask voters for a one-time, 0.45 percent increase in sales and income tax rates in 2019, which would generate more than $700 million in annual public education funding.
Schultz's proposal, HB299, would automatically cut the state personal income and sales tax increases in the initiative by 0.45 percent each. The bill would negate the tax hikes, even if voters approve the Our Schools Now petition.
Our Schools Now campaign manager Austin Cox said lawmakers have set a high bar for ballot initiatives.
"If more than 110,000 Utahns express a desire to vote for better school funding, it would be tragic to undermine the most democratic of institutions," he said. "In the event that the initiative is voted on and approved by a majority of voters, the will of the people should be respected and followed, not overruled by lawmakers.”
o qualify for the statewide ballot, Our Schools Now must collect 113,000 signatures equal to 10 percent of all votes cast for president in each state Senate district and 10 percent of all votes cast for president in 2016.
Cox said the vast majority of Utah voters believe education is underfunded, and initiative backers are willing to work cooperatively with the Legislature to meet the needs of schools.
Schultz said lawmakers agree that the state needs to focus on things such as teacher pay and training, science and technology education, and early childhood education.
"I'm talking with Our Schools Now and hoping that we can work something out to show that we can do that and we don't need the largest tax increase in our state's history," he said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche