A new study shows support for the Our Schools Now initiative to increase educational spending varies with how the idea is presented to voters.
The business-led initiative would increase the state's income tax rate from 5 percent to 5.875 percent and generate about $750 million in public education funding in the first year.
Faced with the less than 1 percent increase, 50 percent of those surveyed supported the initiative and 45 percent were against it.
TFG surveyed a random sample of 1,050 likely general election voters in Utah. The margin of error is +/- 2.98.
TFG Senior Strategist Robert Cahaly said the goal was to shine a light on the numbers and other surveys that had been done looking at Our Schools Now. TFG was cited by Politico for being one of polling companies that called President Donald Trump's win in the 2016 election.
“I think there's a concern about legitimacy of surveys being done,” Cahaly said.
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics survey of 605 registered voters published in January found 55 percent were in favor of Our Schools Now, according to the newspaper. A 2016 Dan Jones & Associates survey found more than two-thirds of Utahans would support a tax increase for K12 education, according to UtahPolicy, which commissioned the study.
When TFG survey participants were told the average Utah family would pay 20 percent more in state income tax annually, 64 percent of respondents said they were less likely to support Our Schools Now. When survey participants were told the average Utah family would pay $900 more per year, 69 percent of respondents were less supportive.
Cahaly said the results show the popularity of an initiative like Our Schools Now has everything to do with the way it’s presented to the public.
“When you throw up the fraction, it seems insignificant, but when you show how much this can mean for your family, opinions can flip,” he said.
State Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, cited the 20 percent state income tax increase as lawmakers looked at alternative ways to increase Utah's education budget in January, according to the St. George Daily Spectrum.
Nolan Karras, a member of the Our Schools Now Executive Committee, told the Standard-Examiner last week they're looking at putting the issue to voters if the Legislature doesn’t take action.
The final question on the survey asked what people would support raising taxes for, if not public education, and 45 percent said they would oppose everything. Gas came in second at 16 percent of respondents and property came in third at 11 percent.
“The average voter doesn't know what that number means if they know how much it's going to cost them they're doing to be against it,” Cahaly said.
In an emailed statement, Our Schools Now Campaign Manager Austin Cox said they recently concluded a survey with Dan Jones & Associates, the results of which will be released soon.
“The results will speak for themselves,” the statement said.
When asked about the accuracy of the numbers cited in the survey, Cox reiterated Our Schools Now would increase the income tax rate by less than 1 percent.
“It is difficult to estimate the average increase because of individual taxpayer's deductions, exemptions and credits,” he said.