New House Speaker Brad Wilson is asking lawmakers to keep Utah’s economic engine humming and pass a record $225 million sales tax cut during the 63rd general session.
Noting that Gov. Gary Herbert had already proposed a $200 million reduction in his annual budget for 2020, Wilson said the Legislature could go further.
“An even better idea would be to deliver the largest single tax cut in Utah state history of at least $225 million,” he said to applause from the chamber.
Tax reform is one of the top priorities of both the House and Senate this year as the state continues to struggle with sluggish sales tax growth. But with a $1.2 billion surplus, officials say it’s a good time to look at changes.
State budget officials say lawmakers need to look at taxing more services than goods to keep pace with a changing economy. The goal, leaders say, is that by “broadening the base” of taxable goods and services, the state can lower its overall sales tax rate from its current 4.7 percent to 3.9 percent.
“Without this restructuring, Utah’s general fund will simply be gobbled up, and we will be unable to fund roads, public safety and basic government programs within just a few years,” said Wilson.
The Republican House leader from Kaysville struck a mostly optimistic chord in his speech to the House even as he warned of “significant challenges” posed by Utah’s rapid growth.
“Despite our high quality of life and recent success, there are threats to this prosperity that we must be prepared for,” he said.
Besides tax reform, Wilson ticked off a number of priorities for the chamber, including school safety, suicide prevention, air quality investments and affordable housing.
In the Utah Senate, meanwhile, Layton Republican Stuart Adams was sworn in as the chamber’s new president. Adams also addressed the need to plan for growth while taking a swipe at Washington’s record-long shutdown that ended last week.
“Ninety-five percent of our goals, our dreams for Utah’s future are the same. To build it, we must unite,” said Adams. “We can’t shut down, we won’t shut down.”
Both Wilson and Adams also threw in a previously unannounced capital proposal, calling for the demolition of the state office building behind the capitol to make way for a newer facility with additional parking.
The building houses state administrative services and offices. There’s no price tag for the project, but in a follow-up with reporters Wilson said they’re just beginning to brainstorm ideas to alleviate some of the capitol’s congestion.
“Parking in general is the first step,” he said. “If we’re going to get people so they don’t have to walk half or three quarters of a mile here during the session, some kind of structured parking is likely to be required.”