Lawmakers announce full repeal of tax reform bill following citizen referendum

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Governor Gary Herbert and members of the Utah Senate announced a full repeal of the tax reform bill on Thursday.

“In recent weeks, it has become clear that many people have strong concerns regarding legislation passed in December to restructure and revise our tax code,” a statement read.

This comes after volunteers with a citizen referendum spent the last five weeks working to gather the nearly 116,000 signatures needed to stop the Tax Reform Bill passed by lawmakers in a December special session and push it to the November ballot.

“I certainly didn’t expect it today. I’m just wondering why they weren’t listening to us last month. First, I think they underestimated our success. Second, I think they realized Utahns are mad enough, they might be voted out of office,” said Frex Cox, former state representative and the sponsor of the citizen referendum.

Utah State Senate President J. Stuart Adams said a hurdle they had during the referendum process was trying to clarify misconceptions about the tax reform bill.

“It’s hard to get the information out. I think there were probably misunderstandings. But regardless of that, I think we’ve heard the voice of the people that have signed and we’re trying to listen to that,” said Sen. Adams.

Shortly after their 5 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, referendum sponsors announced they collected more than 152,000 signatures by their own count. The signatures still need to be verified by county clerks, who have two weeks to finalize the numbers.

“When I went through the numbers that were getting verified, nine of our counties were doing better than I expected,” said Cox. “I’m hoping that legislators realize that the bill is dead and it needs to stay dead. Yes, they have to balance the budget and there may need to be some changes as far as how we do things in the future, but all of these items were bad ideas.”

In response to the referendum, legislative leaders wrote, “We applaud those who have engaged in the civic process and made their voices heard. We are not foes on a political battlefield, we are all Utahns committed to getting our tax policy right. That work is just beginning.”

According to the statement, when the 2020 general legislative session begins Monday, legislative leaders will introduce a bill to repeal the changes made in the special session.

“The intention is that the bill will be ready for the governor’s signature before the completion of the first week of the session. Once the repeal is signed into law, the legislature will begin work under the reinstated tax code to prepare the fiscal year 2021 state budget. Repealing S.B. 2001 will enable the legislature to draft the budget without the uncertainty of a referendum potentially changing the tax code midway through the budget year.”

S.B. 2001 raises sales tax on a variety of items such as groceries and gas, while lowering the state income tax.

“The original challenge we worked to address lies before us still. Crafting the right policy is critical to our state’s long-term success,” the Utah Senate statement read. “Utah has never shrunk from a challenge and, working together, we will chart the right path forward. We will take time to reset and address this issue in the future in a way that allows all Utahns to fully understand the challenge we face, engage in the debate over the best solutions and, ultimately, enact policy that best positions Utah for decades to come.”

Sen. Adams said there likely won’t be anything else on tax reform this legislative session.

“I actually think it might be better until our new governor is in place so we can work together and let their ideas be part of the process,” he said. “But I think we’ll pick tax reform up again next year and see what results we’re able to come up with because we do have a problem. Everybody agrees we do.”

Cox said they still want the county clerks and the Lieutenant Governor’s office to continue counting and verifying all of the signatures they’ve submitted. He said his group is open to working with lawmakers on restructuring Utah’s budget.

“If they’re interested in our opinion, we’ll certainly meet with them. But our group is nonpartisan and if they are actually interested in getting feedback from nonpartisan group, we certainly can put that in place,” he said.

You can read the full statement from the Utah Senate here.

To read the opposing statement, ‘Tax Reform: Correcting Misconceptions,’ click here.

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Glen Mills

Chief Political Correspondent

For this Beetdigger and Ute it’s an honor to be doing what he loves in his home state! Glen is an award-winning journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team in June 2013. You can catch him anchoring ABC4 News at 5 and 6, Monday through Friday. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent, keeping you up to date on issues that impact your life at the city, state and national level. His political reports run throughout the week, and he hosts Inside Utah Politics, Sunday mornings at 8. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...

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