Survey shows Utahns support health and education

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

Remaining healthy and educated is at the top of Utahns’ economic priorities.

The state is snagged in the nation’s economic downward spiral, which means lawmakers have to push money around to soften budget cuts. In order to inform their decisions, the U’s Center for Public Policy and Administration surveyed 1,002 Utahns last week and discovered that remaining healthy and educated is the No. 1 priority for the residents.

“We met with key legislators (in December) to formulate the questions to help them get information that they needed,” said Megan Crowley, coordinator for the public policy center.

The survey asked how Utahns felt about the cigarette and food taxes, as well as where the Utah Legislature should cut government services.

Most Utahns leaned in favor of their health. The majority were willing to increase taxes on cigarettes, which, according to a Columbia University study, would discourage smoking. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed were also unwilling to lose funding for health care and public safety and opted to sacrifice parks and recreation instead.

The Legislature’s decisions on the Hill are a direct reflection of those desires so far. Legislators have found a way to reroute $118 million to public education to soften the blow of the state’s $194 million budget cut. The Utah Senate is also expected to support creating a low-cost health care insurance plan.

The majority of those surveyed were opposed to raising the sales tax on food. Only 11 percent were willing to slim their wallets to thicken their guts.

As of now, the Legislature is playing with the idea of raising the tax from 3 to 6 percent after lowering it two years ago during Utah’s time of surplus. Critics have said that raising the sales tax would adversely affect the lower and middle classes.

Jennifer Robinson, the center’s associate director, did not comment on which legislators the organization spoke with, as their meetings were confidential. She did say the 10 legislators the center met with, including both Republicans and Democrats, were very interested in the survey’s results.

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who did not see the survey, said satisfying all of its results is impossible. There is no way to save both public education and health care from large cuts, since they’re such large slices of Utah’s budget, he said. Also, the $115,000 million brought in by an increasing the sales tax on food would provide too much money to simply overlook, Sumsion said.

The survey randomly selected Utahns using the selection system employed by Dan Jones & Associates’, a local polling firm.

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