Legislative session to address education | ParkRecord.com

Legislative session to address education

As the Utah State Legislature heads full-steam into its 2015 session, a common topic is at the forefront of those that may most affect local students.

"First of all, the big issue, as we always talk about in Park City, is going to be funding equalization proposals," said Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber City), who in November was elected to a fourth term in the Utah House of Representatives.

Moe Hickey, president of the Park City Board of Education, said the district isn’t opposed to all forms of equalization, which redistributes property tax revenue to districts throughout the state. But he wants to ensure taxes from Park City residents — which make up a large portion of the state’s overall equalization fund — aren’t going to districts that simply elected not to tax their own residents.

"We feel that Park City already contributes more than its fair share to the equalization," Hickey said. "Quite honestly, it’s difficult when you have a school district that doesn’t pass a bond offering and then they would be able to benefit from equalization."

Powell said that one of the driving forces behind talk of equalization issues in recent years has been Sen. Aaron Osmond (R-South Jordan), who has proposed several equalization bills that haven’t passed through the Legislature.

"I think he’s got the message that there’s enough opposition, not just from our area of the state, but from other areas of the state, that he’s now trying a different approach," Powell said.

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This session, Osmond has proposed adjusting the minimum basic property tax rate, which would create new revenue that would then be equalized on a per-student basis. While that would create more revenue for local school districts, Powell is unsure if such a bill would pass.

"What it would mean is there’s no loss on what Park City already has," Powell said. " Education supporters, even those in Park City, that I’ve talked to are in favor of it. It’s basically a new tax. But that’s also the reason I don’t think it’ll pass the Legislature. The conservative Utah Legislature is usually reluctant to say they’re raising taxes in any way."

Another bill that could increase education funding for local districts is being drafted by Rep. Jack Draxler (R-Logan). He is proposing raising the state’s flat income tax from 5 to 6 percent, with the additional revenue going to education.

But again, Powell is unsure of its prospects for success.

"I have many constituents who have said they would support a tax increase if they knew it was going to make its way to education," Powell said. "But then a Dan Jones poll done last week on this exact bill showed that less than half of Utah citizens (about 42 percent, according to Utahpolicy.com) would support a tax increase, even if it was for education."

Technology funding will also be a hot topic of debate, as the state moves toward trying to put computers and tablets in the hands of students, Powell said. But it’s important for local districts that have already implemented similar programs to be considered throughout the process.

"It’s going to take a huge amount of money if we do this, even in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Powell said. "So one thing I’m looking out for is for my districts that already have these devices, we should not be penalized for already having spent our own money on them already. There should be a credit that’s allowed for that."

The Utah State Legislative Session begins Jan. 26. To contact Rep. Powell, e-mail him at kraigpowell@le.utah.gov.