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HB77: Increases to weighted pupil unit’s value above 4% would not require property tax

Students work on computers at Beaver School District’s Belknap Elementary School. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The House Education Committee gave unanimous approval to legislation Tuesday that would eliminate the required property tax increase when the Utah Legislature appropriates an increase to the value of the weighted-pupil unit in excess of 4%.

HB77, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, would only apply if the value increase funded by lawmakers exceeds 4%. For increases 4% and below, the requirement that the WPU is funded 85% by state income tax and 15% by property tax would stand.

The weighted-pupil unit is the basic building block of education funding in Utah.

Since the passage of HB293 in the 2018 legislative session, the legislation that created the WPU value unit, some local school districts have had difficulty raising local property taxes for building needs.

Last fall, voters in four of six school districts rejected building bonds, pushing back against additional property increases, said Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Stephenson spoke in support of the bill.

“We think it makes good sense. It is not only respectful of local property taxpayers but it is respectful of the needs for school funding from the Legislature,” he said.

Some committee members spoke in favor of HB77 as well.

Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, who was a local school board member, said she feared when HB293 passed that it would “adversely impact local school districts.”

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said she is “a big fan of the WPU.”

Some lawmakers have been reluctant to make greater increases in the WPU because they know there is a local property tax impact.

“I’d like to remove that bar because the WPU is a really good, equitable way to disperse funds to our schools,” she said.

Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, cautioned that the Legislature’s recent work to address the structural imbalance in its tax system revealed the state’s portion of education funding in Utah is “significantly heavier” than that of many other states.

“Is this the right thing to do given our desire and efforts to increase education funding?” Waldrip said.