Education funding compromise could replace ballot measure

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) - Lawmakers and the group Our Schools Now announced Tuesday they are working on a compromise to increase education funding. Gov. Gary Herbert praised the effort because it included an increase for higher education which he says can be overlooked.

"We now have a title wave of students in public education and those students are now going onto college in higher numbers than ever before," said Gov. Herbert.

Our Schools Now spokesperson Austin Cox said in a statement that the ideas being discussed would include freezing property tax rates, a 10 cent gas tax increase, and funding through economic growth. Although voters would have a say on the gas tax. The group also stated they have always preferred a legislative solution.

Rep. Becky Edwards (R-North Salt Lake) said the increase in funding has been needed, but through the compromise lawmakers will get a say on where it comes from. The gas tax portion of it would fill road construction needs and not strain other areas of the budget.

"That relieves pressure from the general fund which then which then consequentially reveals pressure form education fund," said Rep. Edwards.

The original ballot initiative called for more than $700 million in funding some of which would come through income tax increase. The compromise bill is now more than $300 million.

Critics of both the initiative and the compromise bill worry that the extra money could still be squandered and not fix the problems in education. Connor Boyack who is President of the Libertas Institute believes the state has the funding it needs now.

"Part of the concern for us is that there is very little financial transparency in the schools," said Boyack. "No one is saying don't get any more money but where is the existing money going. Do we have the right accountability before we just throw more money at the problem."

Lawmakers have until Thursday to pass a bill which allows them to set up an opinion question for the November ballot. Then they would have to figure out the language of the gas tax question.

If that passed they would then have to work out other details of the funding which would come during a special session after the November election.

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