by Howard Stephenson
Two weeks ago in this column I was critical of Governor Olene Walker’s budget proposal, saying it was irresponsible to take money from highways and spend it for education since to do so would set the stage for massive tax hikes one year from now.
I was unfair to the Governor in not pointing out the good stuff in her budget proposal. I want to do that now.
Perhaps the best part of Governor Walker’s budget is the proposal to bring structural balance to the state general fund by taking back the diversions of state sales tax revenues that were temporarily given for local road and water funding during the economic fat years. (This is different than her proposal to remove millions ,from the Centennial Highway Fund.)
In the years 1995-97 the state was flush with money and rather than simply keeping the unprecedented revenue growth from sales and income taxes, the legislature cut state income taxes and cut the state wide uniform basic property tax levy in half. The legislature also decided to temporarily divert 1/16% sales tax rate to city and county roads and another 1/16% sales tax to expand a revolving loan fund for local water projects. This has provided approximately $18 million annually to the city and county B&C road fund on top of the nearly $100 million annually to local governments from their 25% share of state gas taxes, which the Governor proposes to keep in place. This diversion has also provided about $18 million annually to a water loan account for locals to tap into. This water loan fund has been sorely abused and raises the question of why taxpayers should be acting as a bank when private sources are available.
The Governor has proposed in economic lean years to take back these temporary diversions that were made during the fat years. Despite the uproar from the locals, I believe Walker’s proposal is the right thing to do.
Don’t Panic About the Cost of Educating 145,000 More Students
In a recent speech at a Republican fund raiser, Utah Senate President Al Mansell gave one of the best descriptions of why we shouldn’t panic about the 145,000 new students expected to hit Utah public schools over the next ten years. He had shared this reasoning earlier with the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune. He developed this argument through a series of questions.
First, he asked whether the number of children per Utah household is increasing or decreasing. Everyone in the audience accurately stated that just as in the nation as a whole, the average number of children born to women of childbearing years is declining. Utah’s family size is still larger than the nation as a whole, but even Utah family sizes are shrinking.
Mansell then asked, if it is true that Utah family size is declining and yet the number of students is growing, wouldn’t the number of working-age parents have to be increasing even more rapidly than student numbers? Everyone in the audience was very good at these types of math story problems and answered, “Yes” (remember, these mostly Republicans).
President Mansell then concluded that the number of jobs the state would need to create over the next 10 years would be a very serious problem. Otherwise, the state would be looking at very high unemployment or we would experience heavy out-migration of adults seeking employment.
He said that since the ratio of working adults to public education students would be proportionately higher than it is today, we should have more taxpaying adults in relation to the number of public education students.
The Senate President said that if we are concerned about funding public education, we should be even more concerned about growing Utah’s economy to ensure that the parents of these school age children have good jobs with which to pay the taxes for their children’s education.
Unfortunately, the Salt Lake Tribune editorial writers attacked Mansell in an editorial entitled “No More Excuses” claiming that this line of reasoning “provided the legislature an election-year excuse for once again shortchanging public education and putting off needed and expensive reforms.”
We can draw only one conclusion from the Tribune’s critical editorial about Mansell’s brilliant argument: The editorial writers must be Democrats (they are obviously not very good at story problems).
A Call for Dumb Republican Quotes
Every year or so I publish in this column a list of dumb quotes. These always elicit more mail responses than any other article. A few weeks ago I published a list of the best dumb quotes for the year 2003. As it happened, all of the national quotes and most of the Utah quotes were from Democrat politicians. Maybe it’s because there’s so many Democrats running for president.
I was soundly criticized for not publishing more dumb Republican quotes, but quite frankly, I haven’t read a lot of dumb statements by Republicans lately. However, in the interest of fairness, if readers will alert me to dumb things said by Republicans, when I get enough to fill a column, I will swallow my pride and publish them.
Send ‘em in!