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Cox and Peterson spar over Utah education in governor’s debate

2020 Utah Gubernatorial Debate

LIVE: Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and U of U law professor Chris Peterson (D) meet to debate at KSL-TV.

Posted by KSL Newsradio on Tuesday, September 29, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah governor’s debate between leading candidates Lt. Governor Spencer Cox (R) and Chris Peterson (D) was much more civil than the one between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden that took place later that evening. 

While the two men had their disagreements, they never became disagreeable, even when it came to their differing thoughts on education. 

Both believe Utah needs to spend more money on education, as the state has consistently ranked at the bottom of per-pupil spending in the United States. 

However, Peterson believes Utah’s flat income tax is a problem and wants the wealthy to pay more. 

“My core values say, ‘To whom much is given, a little more needs to be expected.’ And it’s not because I’m some wild-eyed liberal, it’s because I read it in ‘The Bible’. That’s a core value that I think most Utahns share,” Peterson said. 

Cox, on the other hand, believes the money is there and pointed to a recent budget deal that raised education spending in the state, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, he criticized what he called “perverse incentives” that make building a $150 million school more attractive to districts than raising teacher’s salaries. 

“We have the revenue sources. We just need to prioritize them and take advantage on some that we’re missing out on,” Cox said. 

The candidates agreed that per-pupil spending needs to be evened out so rural and lower-income areas can have the opportunities wealthier districts do. 

Peterson opposes shuffling property taxes around. 

“I want people in Bountiful, in Sandy, in Draper, in areas of Lehi and Provo to listen very carefully. What [Cox] may have just said is that he wants to take funding from your local school district and transfer it to other places around the state. I don’t believe that what we should be doing is having our kids fighting over scraps,” Peterson said. 

Cox hit back that that was not what he meant. He also felt Peterson didn’t understand the depth of the problem. 

“He obviously has not looked at the numbers because we have districts now that per-pupil spending is over $20,000 and others where it’s under $10,000. That is not equitable at all. I believe we have to be more careful about the way that we use the funds available and make sure that we’re lifting everyone up,” Cox said.

Cox also came out in support of Amendment G, which if passed in November would allow some income taxes to be spent on disabled people and children while promising to keep the new, higher education funding intact. 

Peterson said he opposed it because it would create “competition” between schools and the disabled for needed dollars. 

Recent polls show Cox is leading Peterson 55% to 19%.