SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic candidate for governor Mike Weinholtz said Tuesday that he supports raising Utah’s income tax slightly to create more money for education, a move Republican Gov. Gary Herbert doesn’t support.
Weinholtz, speaking at a candidate event at the University of Utah on Tuesday, said he supports a proposal to raise Utah’s income tax by 7/8 of one percent, which would generate an extra $500 million a year. The proposal was put forward by Education First, a group of business executives that want to see the issue put on the ballot before voters.
Weinholtz said Utah’s education is “chronically underfunded” and it leads to teacher turnover and shortages and teachers paying out-of-pocket for classroom supplies.
He pointed to Utah having the lowest per-pupil K-12 education funding in the country, spending about $6,500 per student, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2014, the most recent year available. More than 27 states and the District of Columbia spent more than $10,000 per student.
Herbert, who also spoke at Tuesday’s candidate event, said he disagrees with proposed tax increase because it could hurt the economy and lead to job losses.
The governor said a better way to find more money for education is to grow the state’s economy and keep it business friendly.
“You don’t want to, in fact, kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg,” Herbert said.
He said the state’s low taxes, including its flat 5 percent income tax rate, helps Utah attract businesses from places like California where income taxes are as high as 13.3 percent. Herbert said Utah also faces competition from two neighboring states, Nevada and Wyoming, which don’t tax income.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Herbert would not swear off tax increases entirely, saying that sometimes, a tax increase is a needed trade-off.
Last year, he approved increases to Utah’s gasoline tax and property tax, expected to generate about $150 million combined for transportation and schools.
When he first took office, Herbert said he would oppose any new tax increases but months into the job in early 2010, he found himself allowing a tobacco tax increase to become law without his signature after legislators made deep cuts to public education.
Herbert, has been in office since August 2009, is considered a heavy favorite to win the election as the GOP candidate in a state that hasn’t picked a Democrat governor in three decades.
If he wins, he would have served as governor for about 11 ½ years by the time he would leave office in January 2021, becoming one of the state’s longest serving governors.
Weinholtz is a wealthy former CEO of a medical staffing company who is making his first run for public office.