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Proposed income tax cut doubled as ‘Santa’ and ‘The Grinch’ protest the Utah legislature’s tax overhaul bill

Posted at 11:59 AM, Dec 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-06 21:13:19-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- House Speaker Brad Wilson proposed doubling the income tax cut to Utahns to $160 million under a new version of a massive tax overhaul bill.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Friday, the Speaker said the new money comes from revenue estimates to the state and budget cuts. Middle-class families mostly benefit, but the Speaker also said the proposed income tax cut would be expanded to include single people and "dual-filers."

"A family of four that makes about 60 thousand a year would be $400 to $450 a year in lower taxes paid to the state even though they’ll be paying a little bit more in sales and gas tax," he said.

The governor's office reported on Friday there was about $440 million in new income tax revenue and $42 million in sales tax revenue. He echoed the call for the income tax cut to double.

"This year’s revenue estimates show that our economy continues to thrive. This success is due to hard-working Utahns. Our continuing efforts to find efficiencies in state government and the success of our economy have helped produce another year of strong revenues," Governor Gary Herbert said in a statement.

The Speaker insisted the tax bill was necessary to fix structural imbalances in the system that pays for government services we all use. The income tax is earmarked for education, while sales taxes pay for everything else in the state's general fund.

"It’s not growing nearly as fast as the economy is and we’ve got to adjust our tax code," Speaker Wilson said.

However, in the latest version of the bill, removing the earmark for education on the income tax will not be considered. The Speaker told FOX 13 that would be discussed in a general session.

There is a public hearing scheduled for 5pm Monday to discuss the changes to the tax bill. A special session could be called for Thursday.

The new version of the bill is being made public hours after more protests over the tax overhaul bill. "Santa" and "The Grinch" delivered petitions to Utah Governor Gary Herbert's office calling for a delay on a special session.

At a news conference on Friday, groups on the right and left united to criticize the tax overhaul bill and the speed it's moving toward a vote.

"The only thing that we as citizens can do is complain about something that’s been drafted behind closed doors and revealed just in time for a quick vote," said Krista Palmer of the Utah Tax Reform Coalition. "We can do better. We need to slow this process down."

They called on Utahns to speak up and oppose the latest version of the tax bill, and urge lawmakers to give more time to study its impact. At the very least, they called for the tax bill to be considered in the 2020 session of the Utah State Legislature that begins in January.

Each group had different reasons for opposing the bill. Some said the sales tax on services was too selective. Others criticized a hike in the gas tax, while one group said it supported the idea of removing the earmark on the income tax for education. Chase Thomas of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah opposed the sales tax hike on food.

"We should not be saddling tax reform on Utahns who are already struggling," he said Friday.

But they all felt the process was too rushed and Utahns weren't being heard by legislative leadership who want a Dec. 12 special session to pass the 200-page bill.

At their news conference, the groups hinted at a possible citizen referendum if the tax bill passed (with less than the two-thirds majority needed to be referendum-proof).

"I could see that if this type of bad legislative process continues, that the Utah public will have no choice. The citizens of Utah will likely have to rise up and say very clearly to our legislators, we do not approve of passing laws in this way," said Brett Hastings of Utah Legislative Watch.

Meanwhile, House Democrats unveiled their version of a tax bill that included a "progressive income tax" that goes up as people make more, capping out at 8% for those above $600,000. Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, also proposed eliminating the sales tax entirely and replacing it with a gross receipts tax.

"I think it’s being rushed," he said. "Part of the reason of us putting ours out is to say there are other ideas out there we think have merit."

The plan is not likely to advance very far, as Republicans are a super-majority in the Utah State Legislature.

Read the proposed income tax bill summary here:

Read the proposed income tax bill here: