SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – One week after former Utah State Representative Fred Cox submitted the referendum application against the Utah Tax Reform Bill, four gubernatorial candidates publicly signed and announced support for the petition.
Lawmakers behind the controversial bill, passed by the Utah State Legislature during a special session on December 12, said the new plan evens out an imbalance in the state’s tax structure.
On the income tax side, it would reduce income tax from 4.95 to 4.56 percent, expand Utah dependent personal exemption, give a social security credit, and a grocery tax credit.
On the sales tax side, it would increase sales tax on food from 1.75 to 4.85 percent, repeal exemptions, apply sales tax to gas, services, motor vehicle rental, provide an exemption for feminine hygiene products, and give a discount to modified vendors.
But critics said the credit would cause more Utahns experiencing food insecurity to fall through the cracks.
“What this bill does is it takes somebody that is buying their own food and causing them to pay more tax on their fuel to get around town. They then walk into the store with less money to buy food and walking out with less food,” said Cox.
Dalane England, past president of the United Women’s Forum said she believes lawmakers rushed through the tax reform bill.
“While the tax restructuring concept to the bill has been out for almost a year, this particular bill came out on December 9th and was passed on the 12th. It is over 200 pages. There is no way that anyone can truly vet all of the intended and unintended consequences of the bill, that large, in such a short time especially at Christmas time,” said England.
She said the plan targets certain individuals and will raise the cost of living for Utahns.
“You increase the price of every single thing you buy and every single service that you use, it causes inflation. It causes everything to be more expensive. We’re also opposed to picking winners and losers, picking certain service industries to attack, and some to leave alone for a while,” said England.
Crystal Palmer with the Utah Tax Reform Coalition said members of the Utah State Legislature Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force acted upon misinformation.
“We were completely unable to replicate the official report from their listening tour. We analyzed that report and transcribed the public and written comments. We can tell them they are misinformed, 86 percent of those who issued public comment told them not to vote for some portion of what is SB 2001,” said Palmer.
Gubernatorial Candidate Support
During a press conference held by Brent Hastings with Utah Legislative Watch Monday afternoon, four candidates running for governor in 2020 publicly signed and announced their support for the petition.
Republican candidate Aimee Winder Newton said she talked to individuals from Utah’s lower-income class to understand their perspective and how they would be directly impacted by the new tax reform bill.
“They told me how figuring out how to file one more government form was tedious and overwhelming. It changed my perspective. I wish our state leaders had had that opportunity to sit down and talk with these people and understand,” said Winder Newton.
Republican candidate Jeff Burningham explained that he could relate to struggling Utahns, remembering back to a time when his family had to drink powdered milk and experienced food insecurity.
“I’m afraid that this tax on food is ensuring or making it so that more children in Utah in 2020 will be drinking powdered milk. More children will feel less than,” said Burningham. “There is not a revenue problem. I fear that we have a spending problem. Our state government has grown over 30 percent in the last 5 years. Has your income grown over 30 percent? Do you feel 30 percent better served?”
Democratic candidate Zachary Moses said at the press conference, he believes the strong opposition across party lines is indicative of what Utahns want.
“There are mostly Republicans up here as far as I understand and they’re opposed to this. So our Republican legislature passed this, but all the newcomers and all of you don’t seem to support this. To me, that says the dominant political party is out of touch with the dominant political citizenship,” said Moses.
Republican candidate Jason Christensen said said he believes the lawmakers behind the tax reform bill are influenced by special interests.
“They’re jacking the taxes up as high as they are to fund those special interests, Inland Port, which uses 80 percent of the transportation fund and the education dollars from the ballot initiatives from the last two years,” said Christiansen.
Hastings wrote former Utah Governor and current 2020 gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. indicated he supported the referendum, but could not attend the press conference due to scheduling conflicts.
Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, who is also running for governor, said in a prepared statement back on December 10th that he disagreed with Governor Gary Herbert’s decision to call the special session on the tax reform bill.
Cox said he’s not surprised by the majority support from Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial candidates.
“I don’t know anybody running for governor this next year that’s opposed to us because they would lose,” he said.
Cox said his grassroots organization is facing a good problem – They’re struggling to keep up with printing signature forms to meet the demand of eager Utahns who want to sign it.
“We are moving faster than the printers can go. So we’re getting another printer involved so that we can meet the demand,” he said.
As of Monday morning, referendum sponsor Judy Rohner told ABC4 News they’ve submitted 49 signatures to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office, but anticipate on submitting hundreds more on Tuesday.
The Utah 2019 Tax Referendum group has until January 21 (40 days after the special session passed the bill) to collect nearly 116,000 signatures in at least 15 counties. If they get enough, the bill effective date would be paused and its future would be left up to Utah voters on the November 2020 ballot.
In a statement to ABC4 News Monday, Senator Lyle Hillyard and Co-chair of the Utah State Legislature Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force said:
“We will continue to work with the tax commission to prepare the law that provides a tax cut to Utahns and begins to address the revenue imbalance in the state budget. We respect the referendum process and will monitor the results of their efforts.”
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