Follow Up – The Most Important Part of Being Politically Active - Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne, math teacher at Roy Jr. High School in Weber School District
As I undertook becoming politically active, I concluded that like most things, my experience fit nicely into three distinct phases. The first phase was reaching out, emailing my representatives and scheduling appointments to meet with them. The second phase was meeting the legislators and having a discussion on an issue that is important to education. I wrote about the first two phases in my previous Policy Ambassador article. The third phase, follow up, which I am currently working on, may be the most important phase, though it is the most likely to be forgotten. After doing all the work to establish a connection with a local legislator, it is essential to keep the connection alive by following up.
UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne (right)
met with Rep. Mike Shultz during Educator Day
on the Hill March 1
As mentioned in my last article, the night before my Educator Day on the Hill (EDOH) experience, Rep. Tim Quinn introduced House Bill 441 (Tax Restructuring Bill) in committee. It was introduced two weeks before the end of the session, which is uncommon for a bill of this importance. I met with my legislators and asked specifically about the bill.
HB441 had two important parts: 1) It is broadening the base of the sales tax and taxing more services than it did before. This is necessary because Utahns have changed shopping habits and are spending more on services and less on products. This part does not directly impact K-12 education in Utah. The UEA does not oppose this part of the bill. 2) It would cut the income tax. Income tax is the primary funding source for K-12 education in Utah. The UEA opposes this part of the bill. Until we, as educators and Utahns, are certain the money that has been projected to come in via the new sales tax actually appears, it is not wise to cut the income tax.
I do not oppose the tax reduction. I think everyone would like to take home more money, but at what cost? If the sales tax does not raise the projected revenue, kids are the ones who would be hurt with larger class sizes and cuts to an already lean budget. It seems more prudent to take it a step at a time, introduce the tax, make sure it generates the revenue projected and then cut the income tax. The legislature could make up for the losses of the past few years, maybe they could show people that they really value education by investing heavily in it. What if they *GULP* funded education to the point that Utah does not spend the lowest amount per student in the entire nation? Just a thought. It turns out that HB441 stalled and was sent to a task force to research the ideas further. The battle is not over yet, and there are battles that are worth fighting for on the horizon.
This is where phase three, follow up, comes in. On March 1 at the EDOH, I wrote a thank-you card that would eventually make its way to the legislators. This was a good start, but I wanted to do a little more. I waited a week or so then emailed each of the legislators I had visited with. I thanked them for taking the time to visit with me and for voting against HB441 (even if they voted for it). I explained to them, as I did above, why I oppose cutting the income tax in any way. Once again, I was very surprised at how responsive they were. Rep. Mike Schultz emailed me almost immediately, Rep. Steve Waldrip and Rep. Jon Hawkins a few hours later. I even heard back from Rep. Paul Ray, who had not previously replied. Each of them remembered me, excluding Rep. Ray, who I have never met, and listened to what I had to say. I know I am only one voice, and I may even be a small voice, but I feel like I am doing my part for the first time in my life.
Where do I go from here? I have laid the foundation for good relationships, met with most of my legislators and they know who I am. Now I need to keep the communication open, emailing them about issues from time to time. The legislature will revisit the sales tax bill in a special session this summer. I need to keep in contact so that they remember me when it is a little bit warmer outside, and the vote really matters. For me, I think a monthly email (or text - their numbers are publicly posted on the state website) will communicate to them that I am watching. Who knows? Maybe my small little voice can start carrying a little more weight. I have created reminders on my phone calendar to remind me when it is time to check in and send a message. I am excited to see what the future holds.
About UEA Policy Ambassadors—
In 2019, seven teachers volunteered to become UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and have agreed to participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, engage with their legislators and share their experiences with UEA members.