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Utah tax commission to study whether newlywed gays may file jointly

Published December 23, 2013 4:58 pm

Tax panel • State banned that, while federal policy didn't — but all that was before Friday judge ruling.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Same-sex couples may be marrying in Utah, but it is unclear whether they will be able to file joint state income tax returns to enjoy the same tax breaks as other married couples.

"Since there are several legal issues in motion, we will review with our attorneys these new developments how we address the filing status on state income tax returns," said Charlie Roberts, Utah State Tax Commission spokesman.

"Our intent is to get together as soon as possible to make those decisions," Roberts said, because the state must have tax forms printed soon. Also, vendors of tax preparation software need any changes quickly.

In October, the commission announced it would not allow same-sex couples — even if married in other states — to file joint returns, a decision coming five weeks after the Internal Revenue Service announced it had approved joint filing of federal returns by such couples.

A commission notice said then, "Since Utah law does not recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex couples may not file a joint state income tax return in Utah." Of course, a federal judge has since overturned Utah's ban on gay marriage.

Documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open-records law request show that the commission announced its decision in October — instead of waiting any later — because it was getting "pressure from software vendors" to have a policy in place quickly to allow final preparation of their products.

Roberts said Monday that the current position of the tax commission not to allow joint filing by same-sex couples stands until and unless the commission changes it.

The policy announcement in October came without any formal vote or public debate by the four-member commission.

It was somewhat surprising because Commission Chairman Bruce Johnson told The Tribune in late August that absent any specific legislation, he felt Utah would likely follow the IRS policy on same-sex couples. That's because the state tax system piggybacks on the federal one.

The decision in October meant that married same-sex couples trying to follow Utah and federal policy would need to calculate their federal taxes on forms both for joint and individual filing — then use the joint information to file federally, and the hypothetical individual information for state tax returns.

The commission has partially denied Tribune requests for its documents about the decision. Some documents were released, but said little about the decision except about the timing of the announcement.

The commission denied access to documents from the counsel for Gov. Gary Herbert and from the attorney general's office, saying they were protected by attorney-client privilege.

The Tribune has appealed to the State Records Committee arguing that since the commission held no public meetings on the matter, the documents withheld amount to decision-making process and should be released for public understanding and good government. —

Don't file state tax before Jan. 31

The Utah State Tax Commission strongly encourages taxpayers to file state income tax after Jan. 31, which matches the Internal Revenue tax season.

"To speed up your tax refund, we encourage all filers to wait until Jan. 31, and file electronically rather than a paper return," said Charlie Roberts, Tax Commission spokesman.

He said the state will not process any tax returns before Jan. 31, so there is no advantage to filing on paper before that date. He said taxpayers will receive their tax refunds much faster by filing electronically after that date and using the direct deposit option.