Tax reform task force says process has ‘a long way to go’ before legislation can be passed

ST. GEORGE — Utah’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force held its second of four public meetings last Thursday, where members considered amending the state’s constitution.

The committee has previously discussed creating additional tax credits, lowering tax rates and taxing food. These possible changes were proposed with the ultimate goal of widening the sales tax base to create more flexibility in the general fund.

“We’re not out there just to raise taxes,” said task force co-chair state Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-District 25. “We’re out there to give us more flexibility in how we use the revenue we have.”

During Thursday’s meeting, the committee looked into government spending and education funding, where members proposed amending the state constitution to remove the education revenue silo.

According to Hillyard, repealing the dedication of income tax and ceasing excess funding sources like property tax for education were two valid options the committee considered.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. | Profile photo via senate.utah.gov, St. George News

Throughout the task force’s eight-stop listening tour, taxpayers urged the committee to analyze government spending. Amending Utah’s education fund could help the committee address those comments by turning over related expenditures to the education fund and minimizing government spending.

In past years, Utah’s Legislature has created a statutory spending cap that legislators must abide by when creating and approving the budget. During his time, Hillyard said he can only recall government spending ever reaching the maximum spending limit once.

Discussion on potential solutions has been constructive, he said, and there are a number of valid options for the committee to present to the public. Hillyard said his biggest concern has been that most people believe there is no problem.

“We’re on the right track, but we’re not doing a very good job of educating people on the problem,” he said.

Hillyard said he wants to address economic development and assess current sales tax exemptions to ensure they’re necessary and justified in the next meeting. Overall, he hopes the committee will increase revenue in a way that allows the Legislature to cut taxes.

Residents participating in Utah’s Task Restructuring and Equalization Task Force Town Hall meeting step up to the microphone to voice their concerns during the comment session at Dixie Technical College in St. George, Utah, on June 29. 2019 | File photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Despite the number of agenda items already being discussed and with more to come, Hillyard said the committee has “a long way to go” before it can reach a conclusion. Following the end of the study phase, task force members will draft a proposal, which will then go through the Legislature.

In order for any action to be taken, the legislation will go through a public comment session, the Utah House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor. Hillyard said the final legislation will go through “a series of trade-offs” before it is passed.

The task force was hoping to have the final report done before later fall or early winter in order to hold a a special legislative session. Hillyard said, however, that he and co-chair state Rep. Francis Gibson, R-District 65, aren’t going to rush the process and could wait to introduce legislation until next summer, if necessary.

“We have no deadlines,” he said. “Our goal is to do it right, not do it fast.”

The task force will hold its third open meeting in room 210 of the Senate building in Salt Lake City Sept. 19 at 5 p.m.

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