Some 50 members of the public gave comment at the state legislature’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force hearing Monday evening.
Utah lawmakers have met most of the year to address what they perceive as a state revenue imbalance. As spending habits have changed from goods to services, sales tax revenue for the general fund, which supports social services, infrastructure and more, has diminished. On the other hand, the education fund is supported by income tax and has continued to grow. The draft bill comes out to a $160 million tax cut by reducing the income tax rate and providing some income tax credits; adding sales tax on food and gas; and expanding sales tax to some services.
What’s not part of the bill is a proposal to remove the constitutional requirement that income tax be spent on education funding. That will be considered in a separate bill in the general session. If the constitutional amendment passes two-thirds of the House and Senate, it will be put to voters.
The task force heard from 50 members of the public Monday. Representatives from the conservative Sutherland Institute; the Utah Taxpayers Association; and the Utah Apartment Association spoke in favor of the bill and urged it be passed in a special session, rather than the 2020 general session.
Christy Vail, from the Utah Association of Realtors, says tax savings from the bill will allow 700 Utahns to qualify for a home loan.
“We all know that we’re suffering from a housing shortage here in Utah, and with that, it's created a rapid increase in prices," Vail said. "The residual is that we have many residents here in Utah that are unable to afford a home."
Opposition to the bill came from advocates for Utah’s poor who oppose the food tax; rideshare drivers; and public education supporters.
Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews spoke against the bill, saying educators know what students need in terms of funding support, and this bill doesn’t address that.
“To consider passing this incomplete bill without fully vetting and backed up plan for public education is dangerous, and it sends a demoralizing message to already overwhelmed educators," Matthews said. "Teachers are at a tipping point, and pushing this incomplete tax bill through, disregarding our voices, will inevitably tip the scales in the wrong direction for our kids.”
The task force voted 6-3 to favorably recommend the bill to the full legislature, with Republican Rep. Tim Quinn joining Democrats Rep. Joel Briscoe and Sen. Karen Mayne in opposing the motion. On Tuesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called legislators to a special session planned for Thursday, Dec. 12.