As a state task force wraps up its study and input-gathering phase for reworking Utah’s tax code, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, says he wants the work finished — with a tax cut in place — by the end of the year.
“With that said, we’re going to let good policy drive this, not necessarily the calendar,” Wilson told reporters Wednesday morning. “But I think that there’s a lot of interest in trying to get there if we can.”
The speaker hinted at a cut to the state’s 4.95% income tax rate, suggesting that Utahns could see “their paychecks bump up to reflect that tax cut.” He would not speculate how much that it might be, but during the legislative session earlier this year, Wilson floated a $225 million tax cut.
Since the end of May, a working group of 10 lawmakers and a handful of other state budget and tax experts have studied ways to stabilize the state’s general fund, which lawmakers say has weakened as sales tax revenues have slowed.
The task force has studied options like removing the constitutional income tax earmark for public education and imposing a new, additional sales tax on gasoline. They have also discussed restoring the full grocery sales tax and removing other sales tax exemptions.
The task force was created earlier this year after a House bill that would have added sales taxes to a number of new services — from media streaming to attorney fees — was defeated following loud public outcry.
With the study phase now complete, the task force will release a draft package this Friday and hold a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Democrats would likely oppose the full food tax, as well as any cuts to the income tax or removal of its education earmark, said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
“That’s basically saying, ‘We‘re going to take money from public ed and higher ed,’ and that’s not the direction, I think, people in the state of Utah want to go,” he said.
King said he and other House Democrats would like to see more transparency regarding tax breaks for businesses, which he said cost the state nearly $1 billion annually in tax exemptions.
Regarding a possible tax break, King said a “knee jerk reaction” to cut taxes whenever possible is “shortsighted” and not backed up by data.
“I’m not ruling out the idea that some tax decreases may be OK or even advisable,” he said, but “the data doesn’t suggest that we’re going to have a better quality of life or economic development or education for our kids if we cut taxes more.”
Anna Lehnardt, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said the governor is “eagerly awaiting” the task force’s recommendations and hopes lawmakers will reach a consensus on a package.
“While it is still too early to determine whether or not this issue will be settled in a special session or during the 2020 general session, Gov. Herbert hopes the reforms will create equitable and sustainable revenue streams for years to come and provide a substantive tax cut for Utahns,” Lehnardt said.