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Herbert signs Our Schools Now compromise legislation

BOUNTIFUL — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert joined a few hundred of his newfound friends at Meadowbrook Elementary School Monday to sign legislation celebrating the Our Schools Now compromise.

The event, which was a ceremonial bill signing, brought together lawmakers, educators as well as the community leaders who had backed the Our Schools Now citizen initiative which sought to ask voters statewide to raise sales and income taxes to raise some $700 million for education.

A compromise among the parties was reached in the final days of the 2018 Utah Legislature, something initiative co-chairman Scott Anderson, who is president and CEO of Zions Bank, described as "a miracle."

"They did this. They made this happen. They did it in about two, three days and it was a miracle," Anderson said, referring to state lawmakers who brokered the compromise and passed legislation.

The state's spirit of collaboration "is what makes Utah great. This is what our governor calls our special sauce."

Former House Speaker Nolan Karras, a member of the Our Schools Now executive committee, noted Monday was also the deadline for the now-abandoned initiative campaign to file signatures to the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office.

"It's ironic it's today, isn't it?" Karras said.

"Here we are, really, celebrating a victory with the governor and the Legislature joining together with a ballot provision. So it's a great relief and a hopeful time."

Key elements of compromise include a nonbinding question for voters this fall to ask whether to raise gas taxes 10 cents a gallon and a property tax freeze that was already part of GOP legislative leadership's tax reform package.

Individual and corporate taxpayers in Utah will see a drop in their state income tax rates, from 5 percent to 4.95 percent, while corporations will get a $27 million tax break from the switch to a single sale factor formula.

But property taxes could go up by as much as $125 million a year by 2020 as a result of a five-year freeze in the only property tax levy set by state lawmakers that allows more revenue to be captured as property values rise.

The package of bills included HB491, which creates a one-time option to put a nonbinding opinion question on the November ballot about raising gas taxes by 10 cents a gallon, and HJR20, which is the ballot language.

The other piece of the deal, the state property tax rate freeze and school funding equalization mechanism, was contained in HB293.

As much as the school children were excited to see Herbert, they wildly cheered Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, who told them they could be anything they want — even the owner of a sports team — if they work hard in school.

"This is your job. Just like you, we're going to work every day. This is your job at this time in your life," said Miller, a major backer of the initiative petition.

Our Schools Now "created a platform" for Utah schoolchildren to succeed by bringing to the Legislature's attention the urgency to devote more funding for Utah's public schools, Miller said.

Herbert told the students the compromise to direct more resources to education was "a team effort."

Meadowbrook students need to do their part by being good students, reaching out together in the spirit of friendship and attending college or post-secondary training once they graduate from high school.

"You are the future of this state, this city and our country. It's a very handsome future. You're all very good looking. I suspect, you're very bright, too," Herbert said.

Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said all of the people who came together for the compromise care about education.

The thousands of people who signed Our Schools Now petitions "made a really big difference. If that many people care about this, then we care, too," she said.

Now, people need to get out in November, "make their voices heard" and vote to support the nonbinding ballot question," said Edwards, one of a handful of lawmakers who developed the compromise.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said, "This is really up to the voters now. It's been amazing that all these different entities came together to support this initiative on behalf of the schools. So really now it's carrying forward to the general public."

Dickson said she wants all Utah students to have bright futures and choices supported by the best educators and education leaders.

"This money is targeted at those very issues of making sure each student has the support they need from the educators who serve them," she said.