The Utah Legislature huddled together the past few weeks in special legislative session to examine “tax reform.” Our leaders found a “structural imbalance” exists in the tax code where shrinking sales tax revenues are contrasted by increased income tax piling up in the state’s rainy day fund.
This is especially problematic for our state representatives since income tax revenues are earmarked to be spent only on education. Utah currently funds education at 51st in the nation, according to the Weighted Pupil Unit. Utah’s classrooms get more crowded each year and students are forced to fund the gaps in their education with fundraisers and parents paying student fees while the state Legislature touts a surplus of income tax revenue that they refuse to spend.
The temptation of this “rainy day fund” has proven too much. They announced a $160 million income tax cut! The Legislature’s greedy desires now have them drooling to lift the earmark from income tax and spend these revenues on everything else while pledging to continue to fund education in a “meaningful” way. There are no concrete details for such a plan, just a promise to keep Utah education funding in the nation’s cellar. If there are any future gaps in education funding, the Legislature recommends that local school boards raise property taxes annually using a new provision tied to the current rate of inflation.
The “wisdom” of the Legislature also included raising the sales tax on food to the full sales tax rate, currently around 4.85%, and taxing services like dog grooming, Lyft rides, and streaming media while including a 12 cent a gallon fuel tax as part of the plan. This $160 million dollar tax cut is suspiciously starting to look like a sleight of hand tax increase!
The question looms: Why tax reform? Why now? Shouldn’t the Legislature have waited for the legislative session in January instead of ramming through a vague and nebulous plan before the holidays? The poorest Utahns can’t afford an increase in the sales tax on food where national studies show that the most vulnerable Americans spend 34% of their family budget. Our hard-working commuters from Tooele Valley can’t afford 12 cents more a gallon on that long drive to Salt Lake each day. And most importantly, our children can’t afford a $160 million cut to their education while class sizes approach crisis levels and the necessary materials for student success are few and far between.
The Legislature should not lie to our residents about a $160 million tax cut while they raise taxes at the same time. The income tax cut will benefit the wealthiest Utahns the most while hurting the most vulnerable in our midst. This plan will only result in an increase in gas prices, food prices, streaming media and eventually house payments. Education funding will be worse off and many of us in Tooele Valley will feel the impact.
So Utah Legislature, I am disappointed in you. Our only hope now is to mobilize our citizens in a referendum against this tax reform.
Jeff Saunders is a resident of Tooele.