Suzanne Bailey, of Provo, was talking with her brother when she discovered the details of the tax reform recently passed by the Utah Legislature. Her brother told her that, as part of the reform, the tax on grocery items will nearly triple next year.
As Bailey finished her grocery shopping at Smith’s in Provo on Tuesday, she said she understood the need for raising taxes but worried about how a food tax increase would impact her family.
“The hard thing for me is (that) I’m a single mom of four kids,” Bailey said. “And I get paid decent money, but I think most people would agree that we don’t get increases in our yearly pay … (to keep up with) the increase of food or gas or things like that.”
On Dec. 12, state lawmakers held a special session and passed sweeping tax revisions that cut Utah’s income tax and increased the state’s sales tax. As part of Senate Bill 2001, the state tax imposed on food and food ingredients will go up from 1.75% to 4.85%, an increase of more than 277%, according to the bill’s text.
“It’s hard for us (residents) to keep up,” said Bailey, adding that she works in dentistry and hasn’t had a pay increase in 13 years.
Bailey estimates that she spends at least $200 per paycheck on groceries, meaning she currently pays about $3.50 to the state in sales tax on grocery food every two weeks. Next July, when S.B. 2001 takes effect, that amount will increase to around $9.70.
That may not seem like much, but it quickly adds up, said Alex Cragun of Utahns Against Hunger.
“Especially when it comes to individuals that are living on (the) margins or where their budget is pretty tight and they don’t have a lot of flexibility,” said Cragun.
Data shows that 1 of every 9 Utah households experiences food insecurity, Cragun said, which is defined as not having reliable access to or the financial means to purchase nutritious food.
Utahns Against Hunger estimates that the tax hike will increase food insecurity in the state by nearly 2%, according to Cragun.
Across the state, the group predicts that the tax hike will cost the average family of four an additional $7 a week, or an additional $364 a year.
“It’s a pretty big chunk of change for your family” if you are middle or low-income, he said.
Included in the tax reform is a rebate for low-income families.
When qualifying individuals file their taxes, they can claim a refundable grocery tax credit of $125 per person in their household. After the fourth individual in the household, the tax credit goes down to $50, meaning a qualifying family of five would receive $500 in credit.
Still, Cragun worries that people in poverty may not be able to wait until tax season to be reimbursed, and others may not be aware of the refundable credit.
“Our concerns are that people will fall through the cracks and will be harmed because of this tax policy,” Cragun said.
When asked how the new tax legislation would impact his monthly grocery budget, Provo resident Jason Roundy said “probably not that much.”
“But I think this increase is probably going to hurt lower and middle class families,” Roundy said. “Big time.”
David Dahl, also of Provo, said he didn’t support a state tax on groceries of any kind.
“I don’t think they oughta put a tax on food,” Dahl said. “Everybody’s got to have that.”
One thing that influences Dahl’s position is concern for struggling and poor residents, he said.
“A (homeless man) that walks in off the street to pick up something to stuff in his mouth shouldn’t have to pay a tax on it,” he said.
During his December press conference on Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced that he had signed the tax reform legislation.
The governor addressed concerns with how the grocery tax increase will impact low-income residents, but said the tax credit will help poor residents and the overall reform will benefit the state as a whole.
“I would remind everybody that sales tax dollars spend every bit as well as income tax dollars,” Herbert said.
Kathy Givens of Circles Utah Valley, a program that helps struggling families and individuals reach financial stability, said the impact of the grocery tax increase will be “really small compared to the larger needs that we need to focus on if we’re really hoping to help the poor.”
“There are far greater factors that are keeping people in poverty,” Givens said, such as a lack of affordable housing or jobs that pay a livable wage.
But Givens acknowledged that the food tax increase would have an impact on many of the families that Circles Utah Valley works with.
“They don’t have a lot of wiggle room,” she said. “They’re living paycheck to paycheck.”
Roundy, of Provo, said he thought the increase would be a detriment to the state.
“I think it’s a terrible choice,” Roundy said.
“Our concerns are that people will fall through the cracks and will be harmed because of this tax policy.”— Alex Cragun,
After six and a half hours of public comment and discussion on Tuesday, the Utah County Commission voted to increase the county portion of property taxes by 67.4%, which will give the county an additional $19.3 million to fund various county departments and balance its 2020 budget.
The commission voted 2-1 in support of the increase, with Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie in support and Commissioner Bill Lee in opposition.
It passed with the caveat that the commission would revisit the decision in June, when they will evaluate whether such an increase would be needed to balance the budget after accounting for additional revenue from the sale of the $10 million North County Equestrian Park, which the commissioners are considering.
Currently, the county portion of property taxes that the average Utah County homeowners pays is about $123 a year. With this increase, the average homeowner will pay about $83 more annually.
Under the Truth-In-Taxation process, the rate of the county portion of property taxes collected in Utah County naturally decreases so residents pay the same dollar amount in property taxes every year. Because of this, the county portion of property taxes has not been raised in 23 years.
Utah County has the lowest property tax rate in the state, and that would likely still be the case if a tax increase passed, according to Deputy Clerk Josh Daniels.
The tax increase is slightly lower than the 69% Ainge proposed at a Dec. 4 town hall and again early in the meeting Tuesday. The number was lowered as the commissioners worked together to brainstorm last-minute cuts that could save the county money.
These include a $200,000 cut to the Justice Court, $12,000 in savings by no longer reimbursing commissioners for miles put on their cars, and thousands saved by removing four vehicles from the county’s fleet.
A significant portion of the meeting focused on a potential cut to the STEM portion of the Utah County 4-H program, a youth development program offered through partnership with Utah State University Extension.
Ainge said he supported cutting the STEM portion of the 4-H program in an effort to balance the 2020 budget, adding, though, that he received more emails from upset residents about this potential cut than he has about the property tax increase.
Around a dozen 4-H participants were present in Tuesday’s meeting and spoke about the impact the STEM program had on their lives, saying it inspired them at a young age and launched them on a productive path.
Residents who attended the meeting to comment on property taxes interjected that they felt STEM programs should be funded by state and federal grants and not through the county budget.
The commission voted unanimously to defund the STEM portion of 4-H, saving the county $66,000 a year. Ainge and Ivie said they saw the value of the program but didn’t see it as an essential county government service.
Lee said he would support continuing to use reserve funds to fund ongoing expenses in order to raise property taxes as little as possible. Both Ivie and Ainge disagreed with this type of spending, which Ainge called irresponsible.
Shortly after the meeting, Ivie tweeted, “A ‘conservative’ that votes for every increase in spending yet refuses to pay for it is a fraud.”
Dozens of residents gave public comment during the property tax portion of the meeting. All of them said they were opposed to such a large increase and the fact it was proposed so late in the year.
“I think you’ve really failed us in not getting this (possible increase) out sooner,” Dan Lovinger said to the commissioners. “And your report card does not look good.”
Julie Blaney, of Payson, said she would be prepared to put forward a referendum if property taxes increased. She said tax hikes are an “assault from every angle,” with increases having been proposed at the state, city, county and school district levels.
Ainge said the commission was empathetic to resident concerns but that a tax increase would be necessary for the county to perform its duties.
“We are trying to do essential services and that’s it,” Ainge said.
The new revenue will increase the budgets and staffing of various county departments, including human resources, the clerk/auditor’s office and the attorney’s office. Additionally, the money will go toward county reserves to be used in the case of an emergency.
The county’s total 2020 budget will be more than $104 million. The 2019 budget was around $94.3 million.
Two weeks after a Provo man was charged with hitting a 1-year-old girl until she fell unconscious with a serious head injury is facing more charges for abusing another infant.
Javier Alverdi-Ramirez, 20, was charged in 4th District Court with another second-degree felony of child abuse, according to charges filed on Thursday.
On Oct. 5, his girlfriend’s 5-month-old son was crying in his crib because he had lost his bottle, police reported.
Upset at the baby for crying, Alverdi-Ramirez reportedly went into the bedroom and the crying stopped a short time later. When the mother checked on the baby, she found Alverdi-Ramirez had used duct tape to completely cover the lower half of the child’s face.
“Although the infant continued to breath through his nose, the victim still had difficulty breathing,” charges state.
The mother took a picture before removing the tape. She told investigators the duct tape was difficult to remove and she worried removing the tape would injure her baby.
Police stated at one point, the mother sent the picture to Alverdi-Ramirez’s mother and asked her to help confront Alverdi-Ramirez about the abuse.
But his mother reportedly told her “it was funny and he was just doing it for a joke,” according to police.
Alverdi-Ramirez had been charged on Dec. 9 with physically abusing his girlfriend’s daughter for weeks at their home in Provo.
Charges state the 1-year-old girl had bruises across her body, arms and legs, as well as two broken ribs and a serious head injury.
Hospital doctors confirmed all the injuries were consistent with abuse and noted many of the bruises showed finger marks from an adult hand.
“(The mother) also reported incidents of domestic violence where she was physically abused, and choked by Javier,” police reported. “There is also a history of child abuse in the home and Javier is the only suspect in those cases.”
Alverdi-Ramirez’s first court appearance on the new charges is scheduled for Dec. 23.
As officials in Utah and throughout the country try to find ways to increase affordable housing, one state lawmaker has an idea that she thinks could benefit low-income residents: letting cities choose whether to impose rent control.
The Utah Code currently prohibits any city from implementing rent control, a cap on the amount landlords can charge tenants for rental units, “unless it has the express approval of the Legislature.”
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, drafted a bill that would remove this provision “so that cities and municipalities can make that decision for themselves.” She plans to propose the bill during the legislature’s 2020 General Session.
Provost, who took office at the beginning of the year, said she was encouraged to draft the bill by a constituent who works with Salt Lake City’s homeless population.
It is not the role of state lawmakers to regulate rental rates, Provost said, adding that the law would restore “local control.”
“If we’re a state that values small government,” the Salt Lake City representative said, “then we need to be true to that philosophy and we need to put the decision-making power where it belongs.”
Lack of affordable housing is particularly an issue in Utah County. In October 2018, Mary Street, vice president of Utah’s Colliers International real estate firm, said most people in the county spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
According to listings on apartmentfinder.com, a one-bedroom apartment in Utah County can cost up to $2,280 a month, while most are listed around $1,100 a month.
Rent control in the United States goes back to at least World War II when caps on rental units were set as a price-control measure, according to David Sims, an economics professor at Brigham Young University.
Most cities and states got rid of rent control after the war, but some cities reinstated it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sims said.
Currently, there are rent control measures in California, New Jersey and New York City, according to Sims. In February, Oregon became the first state in the country to impose statewide rent control, NPR reported.
Supporters of rent control say setting limits on the amount landlords can charge is good for low-income renters and makes housing more affordable. Sims, who has researched the impacts of previous rent control measures in Massachusetts, said that, in the long term, rent control often has the opposite effect and leads to less affordable housing.
Rents go up when there is a housing shortage, Sims said. Rent control measures can “exacerbate” these shortages because landowners have a financial incentive to convert rental units into condominiums or commercial buildings.
When there is an excess demand of housing units, which happens in cases of housing shortages, “landlords essentially get to pick who they want as tenants from a pretty long line of people,” said Sims.
“Most economists see rent control as being a very costly way to try (to) help (low income) people,” said Sims. “Most of the benefits get captured by people who are not particularly poor.”
In a study that was published in September, researchers at Stanford University looked at the effects of rent control on affordable housing. They found that landlords who were subject to rent control reduced available rental housing by 15% and sold rental units to owner-occupants and developers. Additionally, their research showed that rent control limited renters’ mobility by 20%.
Provost, whose bill would let cities impose rent control, said she agreed that some rent control measures could have negative impacts.
“There are definitely wrong ways to implement it,” Provost said.
But the representative said she believes rent control can be passed in ways that help low-income Utahns. An example, she said, would be “a very targeted implementation for a very small subset of community members,” such as people on a fixed income.
In a statement, the Utah Apartment Association said it opposes any efforts to implement rent control in the state.
“Rent control hurts all property owners in Utah (not just landlords) by capping property incomes and values across the board,” the statement reads.
The apartment association said the way to increase affordable housing is by “reducing barriers to development, allowing basement apartments and accessory dwelling units, and fostering a strong economy that provides economic opportunity for households.”
Executive director Paul Smith said that letting cities and municipalities pass rent control measures “would require that we could potentially have to play by 245 different sets of rules.”
“It’s generally not the best approach to affordable housing,” Smith said.
In response to concerns about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses its donations from members, the church released statements Friday further detailing how tithes are used.
“Claims being currently circulated are based on a narrow perspective and limited information. The Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves. We continue to welcome the opportunity to work with officials to address questions they may have,” the church said in a statement earlier this week.
To show transparency, the church added additional information by delineating how sacred tithes and offerings are used.
“The Church is committed to helping the poor and needy,” the statement said. “Latter-day Saint Charities is a global program that primarily benefits those who are not Latter-day Saints. In times of need and during other emergencies, we partner with many global organizations like the Red Cross to provide assistance.”
Earlier in the week, after accusations were made by a whistleblower to the IRS and Washington Post that $100 billion in church donations were not being used, the church’s First Presidency issued the following statements.
“We take seriously the responsibility to care for the tithes and donations received from members. The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing Church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary efforts throughout the world. Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future. This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the Church and its members. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely appointed mission.”
The most recent annual report shows that the humanitarian arm of the church has given more than $2.2 billion in aid in 197 countries since it was created in 1985.
President Russell M. Nelson spoke in the October General Conference about some of these efforts.
“In addition, through the Church’s welfare program, leaders of the faith’s 30,000-plus congregations regularly help men, women and children with food, housing and other temporal needs, totaling billions more dollars in assistance,” the statement said.
Other uses of donations go to build the church’s temples.
“The Church is heavily focused on the doctrinal principle of connecting families across generations,” the church statement said. “This spiritual work is done in 217 announced or operating temples, an effort supported by the faith’s nonprofit family history organization, FamilySearch, which also freely offers its genealogical resources to anyone.”
The church also funds facilities, education and activity programs for 30,500 congregations, including building meetinghouses that serve as spaces for community education, family history research and emergency response.
The church also supports missionary work around the globe. At present, more than 65,000 Latter-day Saint missionaries are preaching, according to church statistics. That effort requires significant financial support from the church beyond personal or family contributions.
There are 400 missions that include mission homes, apartments, offices and automobiles that are all funded by the church.
The church statement also talked about the investments in education.
“The Church believes that both secular and spiritual learning are eternal, and it invests significant financial resources in education,” the statement said. “The Church’s Seminaries and Institutes program provides daily religious instruction to some 400,000 high school students and 300,000 university students each year. The Church provides higher education opportunities globally through its expansive PathwayConnect program, which paves the way to a university degree for those with limited opportunities or resources. And the Church operates several universities and a business college serving a combined 93,000 students.”
All of these things are supported by the worldwide church and donations to it.
“The Church follows the same sound financial principles it teaches its membership. It avoids debt, lives within its budget and prepares for the future.”
Spencer Jackman has been attending college since before he could drive. Which, at 17 years old, hasn’t been too long.
He’s set to graduate from Brigham Young University this month with a degree in communications studies, following a family tradition of utilizing concurrent enrollment classes to catapult their educational futures.
“It’s not that we’re smarter than anyone else,” said Mikaela Jackman, Spencer’s sister. “We were able to learn how to get the full degree.”
There has been only one other 17-year-old who graduated from BYU within the last five years, according to the university.
Spencer will turn 18 in February and plans to leave in March for a two-year ecclesiastical mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Indianapolis.
He will finish the classes needed in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree in communications studies this month, but will miss the university’s commencement ceremony in April.
Spencer started semesters by mentioning his age during icebreaker exercises.
“I’d give my spiel and mention it, and people would turn around and I would hear whispers and whatnot, and then people would talk to me afterwards,” he said. “Unless I mentioned it, it was pretty easy to blend in.”
Three of Spencer’s older siblings received their associates degrees earlier than their peers. He has one younger sibling who is on track to meet a similar deadline.
The five Jackman children have taken concurrent enrollment classes through Utah Valley University in order to get college credits for classes they were taking as part of their high school schedules.
Mikaela graduated with her bachelor’s degree in recreation management at 19. She’s now 22.
“For us, we heard about this opportunity and thought it was something we should take advantage of,” she said.
The family, who lives in Orem, heard about concurrent enrollment classes from their mother, who herself heard it from a neighbor.
“My mom is a single mom, and she knew she wouldn’t really be able to help us get through college due to the circumstances, so when she found out it was $5 a credit, she was like, this is a good opportunity,” Mikaela said.
Spencer received his associate degree from UVU and graduated from Timpanogos High School in Orem at 16. He decided to continue on to college and finish classes before leaving on a mission.
“Really I have just liked it,” Spencer said. “It was really fun.”
After returning from his mission, Spencer plans to travel for a week or two, get a job and then break into acting and musical theater.
Theater is a passion of his. He balanced his high school and college classes while participating in productions of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Beauty and the Beast” and a Broadway showcase. His older brother also juggled his classes with wrestling, football and weightlifting.
Mikaela said it’s all about pushing forward and managing time effectively.
“It’s not as bad as people think,” she said.
They’re big advocates of concurrent enrollment classes. But although each child has gone through the same process, Mikaela said Spencer has been different.
“By the time it got to Spencer, he just kind of cruised right on through,” she said.
BYU sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson couldn’t have been surprised Wednesday evening after practice when he was asked about his younger brother Josh Wilson, a star linebacker at Corner Canyon.
Josh Wilson was one of 13 athletes who submitted their letters of intent Wednesday and made it official that they were joining the Cougar family on early signing day.
Zach Wilson said he didn’t feel like he did much at all to influence his brother’s decision.
“We didn’t have a ton of conversations about it,” Zack Wilson said. “I think it was about opportunity and where he wants to be. He’s heard about my experience and these are the guys he wants to be around. He can be by family, just down the street. I think he fits in well here, so it didn’t take a ton of convincing or anything like that.”
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake was asked which of the new players he was most excited about having on the team — and predictably he refused to play favorites.
“I love all of them,” Sitake said. “We had a lot of coaches who went throughout the area and found some good prospects. Then they were turned over to the position coaches, who developed a relationship with them and saw they could fit with this program both on and off the field.”
It was a balanced class for the Cougars, with seven of the guys slated to be on the offensive side of the ball and six listed as defensive players.
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said there weren’t any surprises in the group that signed on Wednesday from his point of view.
“I felt like we did a great job recruiting skill to replace a couple of spots where we lose some guys in particular,” Grimes said. “There was no one that signed on offense that we didn’t anticipate signing and no one that we thought would that didn’t.”
Recruiting observers, however, appeared to be somewhat surprised that BYU got a letter of intent from wide receiver Kody Epps, a star at Mater Dei High School in Los Angeles who had 93 receptions, 1,735 yards and 28 TDs last year.
“We had a connection with his family but once they got on campus — and this really for all the recruits — they got to meet the faculty and staff as well as the football team,” Sitake said. “These visits are really about our players telling us whether or not a recruit is a BYU guy and it came back unanimously positive about him being a guy who would be a great fit for us.”
Epps was one of three wide receivers added by BYU on Wednesday, with the other two being Terence Fall from San Bernardino, California, and Chris Jackson, a junior college transfer also from California.
“We needed to get some speed and some difference-makers who can catch the ball and make a big gain,” Sitake said. “We have some of those guys but the more the merrier for us.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars added three defensive linemen but also placed an emphasis on defensive backs.
“I’m happy with where we are at,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “We got some of the guys we were after and I’m happy with where they are at. I’m excited for them to come in and get developed. You are always looking for good corners. That’s always been a focus.”
Sitake said most of the players who were announced as signing on Wednesday are guys who will likely be part of the team in 2020. Other guys also submitted letters of intent, including some from Utah Valley, but didn’t have their names officially announced because many plan to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints before enrolling at BYU.
“We’re kind of restricted with the numbers that we can officially announce,” Sitake said. “We over-signed, knowing that we will have guys go on missions and guys who are going greyshirt. We had a good group of guys who did that this year.”
Sitake said it is always nice to get to this point and have the athletes officially confirm their verbal commitments.
“It’s just good because now they are part of the family,” Sitake said. “We can count them in and plan on their future. We can see where they fit while they can move on with getting admitted into school and finishing up their semesters.”
BYU’s first half against Weber State on Saturday was as pretty as a Christmas card.
Make that a Christmas card filled with cash money, because that’s what most of the Cougars shots were in the first 20 minutes.
BYU set a program record by shooting 80 percent from the field in the first half and went on to rout the Wildcats 91-61 at the Marriott Center, preserving a streak of 21 straight wins against Weber State at home.
BYU senior forward Yoeli Childs was sensational in the first half, making all 10 of his field goal attempts for 22 points. Add to that a ferocious alley-oop dunk off a pass from T.J. Haws and a soaring block of a Michael Kozak 3-pointer and you’ve got a player Weber State found pretty much impossible to guard. His 22-point first half was a career high. The 10 straight field goals is a school record for a first half and ties the record for either half set by Danny Ainge.
“It’s a good feeling when your shots are falling like that,” Childs said. “I think my teammates and my coaches put a lot of confidence in me. I’ve been missing a couple of bunnies here and there just getting back into the flow of things. But my teammates are super positive and super encouraging. They say, ‘Don’t worry about that, your shots are going to fall.’ I think the confidence they give me helps my game a lot.”
Childs finished with 28 points on 11 of 13 from the field and added eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
Childs’ teammates were nearly as sharp offensively in the first half. The Cougars made 12 of their first 15 shots and finished the half 20 of 25 from the field to go along with 13 assists.
BYU had 25 assists in total for a season-high.
Alex Barcello finished the game with 18 points for the Cougars and made 4 of 6 from the 3-point line. Dalton Nixon and Connor Harding scored 11 points each and Jake Toolson added 10. Haws contributed nine points, eight assists and five rebounds.
“With this team, my eyes are lit up the entire game,” Childs said. “I Iove it. It’s really tough for the opposing coach. I don’t envy their job because you really have to pick your poison. Are you going to let one of best shooting teams in the country shoot threes or are you going to play one-on-one in the post? We feel like no matter what the opposing team does on defense, they are wrong.”
It must have felt that way for Weber State in the first half.
BYU opened the game bombing away from the 3-point line – two from Barcello and one by Toolson – then hammered the Wildcats inside by sharing the ball and getting easy layups. The Haws to Childs alley-oop gave the Cougars a 17-10 lead. Later in the half a devastating 21-5 run – with eight points from Childs – pushed the BYU advantage to 40-19 with four minutes to play. A 3-pointer and a turnaround jumper from Childs gave the Cougars a 27-point lead (51-24) at halftime.
Weber State (3-7) got its offense going in the second half behind Jerrick Harding (27 points, 15 in the second half) but never moved any closer than 17 points. The Cougars weren’t nearly as efficient on offense in the second half but a 9-1 run, punctuated by a no-look pass from Barcello to Nixon for a layup on the break, gave BYU an 80-53 lead with 4:53 to play.
“Our trajectory is really positive because of the shots the guys are getting and the way they are approaching their shots,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “We judge our offense by the shots we are earning for the guys and how they are approach their shot. That’s a winning formula for us.”
Haws got a highlight moment with a steal and a one-handed dunk for an 88-56 bulge in the final two minutes.
“I’m going to have that dunk on replay, are you kidding me?” Childs said in the post-game. “I’ve never jumped so high in my life on the sideline. I thought I was going to hurt myself. I’m making that my screensaver and I need a poster. If my wife is OK with it I might name my first son Tyson (Haws’s first name). That was sick.”
BYU sophomore big man Kolby Lee missed the game with a knee injury and is expected to be out for several weeks. Nixon was inserted into the starting lineup in his place.
The Cougars (10-4) are off until next Saturday when they will host Oral Roberts in the final preseason game.