SALT LAKE CITY — Backers of a 10-cents-a-gallon increase in gas taxes to boost funding for Utah schools unveiled a new TV commercial Tuesday that's set to start airing later this week.
In the 30-second spot set to begin airing Thursday, three young students seated in a classroom appear to hack onto the airwaves to deliver a message in support of what will appear as Question 1 on the November ballot.
"We really need your help," they say together hurriedly, rattling off statistics about students falling behind in key subjects despite "awesome" teachers and promising the increase will only amount to about $4 a month for drivers.
"The kids are the ones that are affected by the lack of investment in the schools," said Austin Cox, campaign manager for Our Schools Now, the group seeking more funding for education.
Originally, Our Schools Now sought to increase sales and income tax rates in Utah to raise some $700 million for education but reached a complicated compromise with state lawmakers last session to improve funding.
That compromise included putting a nonbinding question before voters in November about whether gas taxes should go up by 10 cents a gallon to free up other revenues now earmarked for transportation.
The final decision will be up to the 2019 Legislature.
Adding 10 cents to the current 29.4 cents a gallon state gas tax is expected to bring in about $180 million in the first full budget year that begins July 1, 2019, according to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office.
Some of the money from the increase would be used for local road needs under the terms of the compromise, which also included a five-year freeze on the state property tax levy.
That freeze could mean as much as $125 million in additional revenue annually by 2020 as property values rise. Lawmakers also gave schools a record $500 million in new money last session.
At a news conference Tuesday held at Heartland Elementary School in West Jordan, a pile of school supplies valued at $479 was displayed. Cox said that's how much teachers typically contribute in supplies bought with their own money.
"We wanted to be a in a school today because the funding from Question 1 is going to be invested directly in classrooms," Cox said. He said school teachers overall spend about $13 million annually supplementing their classrooms.
"It's time to put our kids first by investing in students and teachers," he said.