The influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Utah politics and culture is undeniable.
In responding to a Tribune reporter, lawmakers estimated that 90 percent of the 75 Utah House members are LDS, as are 27 of 29 senators. Membership numbers provided to the state by the LDS Church indicate that 62 percent of Utah’s population is Mormon, and church leaders regularly speak up on policy questions they deem “moral issues” such as liquor laws, gambling, immigration and same-sex marriage.
Mormon doctrine encourages its faithful members to produce offspring, and Mormon culture goes even further, enshrining large families as the ideal.
So it’s not surprising that the Legislature has given short shrift to proposals — and there have been multiple bills sponsored — that would reduce or eliminate state income tax exemptions granted for dependents.
This year Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, has been more successful than any previous sponsor of legislation to infuse public education with some much needed revenue by reforming this part of the income tax code. Her bill, SB118, was advanced by the Senate Education Committee, the first time such a proposal has made it that far.
It would limit to two the number of personal exemptions allowed per household. She estimates it would cost a family of three an average of $148 per year. Larger families would pay substantially more, depending on their income. The change would add about $267 million a year to the education fund.
Some refer to the change as a “head tax,” but in reality it is an elimination of a subsidy for large families that all Utahns have supported with their taxes for a long time. The subsidy means that families with many children are contributing less for schools than other taxpayers at a time when Utah remains in last place for per-pupil education funding.
That lack of fairness is ingrained in Utah’s tax code, but it’s time for a change. Jones’ bill is a good way to make that adjustment.
Selling it to Mormon legislators, many of whom have large families themselves, will be Sisyphean. But Jones and others who see the bill as a way to bring equity to the system can point to another LDS doctrine: taking responsibility for yourself and your family.
Large families should be willing to pay a little more of the costs of educating their children.