Herald editorial: Why revising Utah’s tax structure now will prepare us for the future
There are two certainties in life, according to Benjamin Franklin: death and taxes.
To be frank, not many people want to talk about either, which is probably why whenever there is so much as a whisper of tax increases or adjustments, a risk of full-blown rioting is at hand, and often times, understandably so. We, like many in Utah, believe Utah is one of the most fiscally responsible states in the union.
But our state is growing, exponentially so. We don’t want to sing the same tune we’ve already crooned over countless times, but the state is expected to more than double in population in the coming decades, and we need to start preparing now for that growth. Utah County specifically is expected to be the largest county in the state.
Part of that preparation includes good, responsible fiscal planning. It means evaluating tax code and tax implementation to determine proper allocation of funds and money. And with how passionate people can be about their taxes and what’s coming out of their wallets, it only makes since that the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force has been touring across the state to receive input from as many — and as diverse — citizens of the Beehive State as possible.
Before the task force’s meeting Tuesday evening at Utah Valley University, the Daily Herald Editorial Board had the opportunity to speak with Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard, R-Logan, and Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, about some of the findings of the task force.
The first thing we want to point out is that the task force does not, at this time, have a recommendation for the Legislature or any state governing bodies on how to best balance the future of Utah’s tax code or tax revenue. This is something that the task force has said will take a significant amount of time and its primary interest right now is in receiving multiple voices and opinions as to what would be best for Utah’s future.
Gibson told us Tuesday they’ve received ideas and input they hadn’t even thought of, and he’s glad that so many citizens — hundreds at each of the nine town halls — are willing to provide input on the future of Utah’s taxes.
Keeping that point in mind, we think the sacrifice that this task force has taken in hosting these town halls is a very genuine demonstration of exercising Utah’s best interests. The Utah legislative session is only held for a couple months out of each year. Right now, these legislators should be on vacation time, kicking up their feet on the beach or snacking on a Dole Whip at Disneyland. Instead, they’re sacrificing their time to trot across the state and educate and listen to each one of us. That transparency, in the eyes of the Editorial Board, exhibits a candor in seeking what will best meet the needs of each Utahn.
Though Utah is largely centered around the Wasatch Front, the needs of those in Provo are vastly different from those in Moab, for example. Moab, with its heavy tourism base, has only about 8,000 taxpayers chipping in their fair share of covering wastewater services, utilities, education and public safety. Meanwhile, more than 3 million people make their way through the recreation destination annually. The same formula that applies to Provo taxpayer revenue collection may not work for Moab, and the task force is aware of that.
Just because we’re on the topic of taxes doesn’t mean taxes will be raised. In fact, Hillyard told us they may even be reduced after conducting further studies and after implementing such taxes as service taxes and a more broadly applied sales tax. Since its implementation in the ’30s, fewer and fewer goods have applicable sales tax. Today, only about 35% of goods have applicable sales tax, according to Hillyard. Rather than increasing the tax rate, Gibson proposed it may be just as well to widen the base of what is taxed in the first place. Or services may have to be taxed more, as few services are currently taxed.
Regardless of whatever the future tax plans may be, we agree with the task force that something has to change. We cannot continue along the current trajectory without modifying tax structures to better accommodate the pending growth. We understand that not everyone will agree. However, we do hope that every taxpayer in the county takes the opportunity to become educated about the task force and its mission and objective, by visiting http://strongerfutures.utah.gov. Though there are no more town halls being held, this site provides information about how revenue is generated in the state, how the task force wants to restructure taxes and taxpayers can even submit comments and concerns to the task force.
The Beehive State is buzzing with inescapable growth. We have a choice now to either prepare for it and continue to have one of the most desirable states to live in in the country, or kick the can down the road until it’s too late.