Numerous polls have been released that indicate Utahns would be supportive of an increase in the individual and corporate income tax to support the public education system.
In October of this year, pollster Dan Jones and Associates asked Utahns whether they would favor or oppose a ⅞ of 1 percent increase in the personal and corporate income tax for public schools.
The results showed 66% of respondents would be in favor of such an increase.
That type of a rate hike would result in a more than $700 annual increase for every household in the state of Utah, resulting in roughly $750 million additional in government revenue annually.
Dan Jones released another poll earlier this year asking how important is it for Utah to increase its per-pupil spending so that we are no longer last in the nation. Similarly, results show 83% of Utahns find it important.
However, the additional revenue from the income tax increase being proposed would only raise Utah’s ranking by two points, from 51st to 49th in the nation.
“Data” from these polls have been propped up in the public eye, released repeatedly over years, creating a perception in perpetuity that Utah’s public education system is in dire straits.
Therefore, these polls draw the conclusion that Utahns would be willing to give up even more of their money for public education. Knowing this, in 2013, the Legislature passed a bill that allowed individuals to voluntarily contribute money directly to the public education system, through a option on the income tax form. This option comes alongside many other voluntary contribution items, including assistance to the homeless and buying armor for police dogs. How successful has the “Invest More in Education” voluntary contribution line item been?
Based on data from the Utah State Tax Commission and aggregated by your Taxpayers Association, voluntary income donations to the public education system only reached $8,083 in 2014, which is the latest figure available.
When compared to the $5.1 billion spent on public education in Utah, that is a measly 0.0000015% of the budget.
That $8,083 was donated by 695 individual taxpayers, which equated to $11.63 per voluntary contributor. This is far less than $722 additional in income taxes which poll after poll has suggested Utahns will “happily pay” to support public education.
In fact, Utahns voluntarily donated more money through the income tax form to provide body armor for police dogs. Additionally, nearly three times as many filers donated to a program to spay and neuter pets ($26,347) than gave to public education ($8,083) 3 in 2014.
We’ve seen many notable Utahns promote the idea that taxpayers would be willing to pay more for public education, but the actionable data from Utah’s families and workers shows otherwise.
This leads to the question of whether poll respondents fully consider the implications of the issues they are being pressed to answer, and if not, can that data be trusted?
In this month’s My Corner, you can read more information about why polling data is often so inaccurate, and the outcome of issues is often the reverse of what polling data suggests.
But the opportunity for Utahns to voluntarily donate to public education may not last much longer. In an effort to shorten the increasing length of the income tax form, the Legislature this past session passed a law that would remove contribution options if a contribution generates less than $30,000 annually for three consecutive years.
With donations to the Invest More in Education program in 2013 and 2014 well below the $30,000 threshold, we’ll find out in January when the Tax Commission releases the latest figures if Utahns will continue to be able to voluntarily give to public education, or whether all Utahns will be stuck paying hundreds more a year to inflate an arbitrary ranking.