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Utah gubernatorial candidates react to tax bill being repealed

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jan 23, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY -- In the fallout of the tax bill, Utah's governor called on whomever is elected to replace him in office to bring new ideas about tax policy.

Speaking to reporters at his monthly news conference on PBS, the governor addressed the decision to repeal the tax overhaul bill the legislature passed in a special session last month. He said the next governor of Utah should be prepared to deal with tax issues.

In interviews with FOX 13 and in statements, many of the gubernatorial candidates weighed in.

"The success of the referendum is a great example of democracy in action. I congratulate the many, many Utans who went to work and made sure their voices were heard. While I opposed the tax reform bill that was passed, I do appreciate Governor Herbert and the state legislators who accepted the hard challenge to address issues with Utah’s tax system," Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said in a statement through his campaign. "Going forward I will work on finding answers by reducing the growth and cost of government and ensuring that Utah’s education system will not suffer in the process."

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton praised citizens for speaking up and making their voices heard.

"I’m not a fan of the sales tax on food," she said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13. "You know, I went and listened to people in poverty and we talked about the math of the rebate versus the monthly savings in food tax and they overwhelmingly said they need that monthly savings. That’s more valuable to them because of how they live."

Winder Newton said she oversees the second biggest budget in the state as a Salt Lake County Councilwoman. She emphasized looking at transportation funding and scrutinizing the state budget.

Jeff Burningham also planned to scrutinize the state budget, if elected.

"Let’s look at spending. Spending has increased 30% in the last five years," he told FOX 13 in an interview. "That’s over $3 billion. If I were elected governor, one of the first things I would do is a top to bottom audit of state government and look for waste and inefficiencies."

Burningham said he opposed the sales tax on food, having grown up "with the taste of powdered milk in my mouth." He called for other solutions.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. also praised the legislature for deciding to repeal the tax bill.

"During my first term as governor, I worked successfully with the members of the legislature on a transparent, inclusive process that resulted in unanimous support for tax reform that flattened the state income tax, significantly cut the sales tax on food and contributed to the foundation on which our robust economic expansion was built," he said in a statement.

"If elected to serve again, I look forward to working with the legislature, the public and community advocates to improve our tax policy that broadens the base, lowers the rate and not only keeps us competitive with other states, but puts us in an advantageous position to keep Utah as the strongest economy in the nation."

Thomas Wright said Utahns should be proud of what they accomplished with the referendum effort.

"What's more American than citizens working together to hold their elected officials accountable? The citizen effort was historic and successful and Utah should be proud. Today, the Legislature proved they are listening, by choosing to go back to the drawing board. That takes a lot of courage and humility," he said in a statement.

"It’s the Governor’s responsibility to work with the people of Utah to find solutions to the problems we face. This is exactly why I’m running. Utah’s next Governor needs to have fresh ideas and the leadership skills necessary to tackle problems before they become crises. Our next Governor should lead with creative solutions and practical experience from outside of government. When I’m Utah’s next Governor, I will always look for ways to save taxpayer money, I won’t call special sessions without a bill in hand, and I will always vet special session bills with lots of public input."

Former House Speaker Greg Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.