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Op-ed: And here’s five unneeded tax increases from the Legislature

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 12:06 pm

When speaking of Congress's propensity to raise taxes, Ronald Reagan paraphrased a well-known Will Rogers statement that he had never met a man he didn't like by saying, "We have some people around here who never met a tax they didn't hike."

Well, the same may be said of the Utah Legislature.

During the recent legislative session, elected officials took some actions to reduce legal restrictions on Utahns (see Connor Boyack's op-ed also published today). For these actions, I whole-heartedly commend and thank our representatives and senators.

However, these same legislators also passed several tax and fee increases, reaching deeper and deeper into the wallets of Utahns — all while the state had an $88 million annual surplus and has accumulated rainy day funds of nearly $500 million.




To put a stop to this, Utah should consider changing how we allow for increasing taxes. I'd like to see legislation that requires a two-thirds super-majority vote in each legislative body for any tax or fee increase. Better yet, let's require all tax and fee increases be put to the voters as a ballot referendum in even numbered election years — when legislators are up for reelection.

Here are five tax and fee increases passed by the Utah Legislature:

More gas tax hikes • After increasing gasoline taxes by 4.9 cents a gallon in 2015, this year the Legislature again increased gasoline taxes. Senate Bill 276, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, increases gas taxes by 0.6 cents a gallon and 1.2 cents per gallon increased in 2019 and 2020 — totaling an estimated increase of $4.2 million in 2019 and $14.6 million in 2020. The law also allows for bigger annual hikes (16 percent as opposed to 12 percent) until a legal cap of 40 cents per gallon. This is a tax hike that promises to keep on taking.

Upping your phone bill • Prior to the Legislature passing SB 198, Utah already had the 16th highest wireless tax rate among the states. Welcome to the top 10! This bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, increases the fees by $6.72 per phone line (landline and wireless) per year. Utahns will fork over another $18.7 million a year. Can you hear me now?

Increasing Fees of Off-Highway Vehicle Registration • House Bill 359, sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings, increases the annual registration fees for ATVs and off-road motorcycles by 50 cents. Expected cost to off-road enthusiasts: $150,000 a year. The ride on the bumpy roads of life got a little more expensive.

Tax Headwinds for Tourism • Senate Bill 264, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, imposes an additional 0.32 percent state transient room tax on hotels and Airbnb rentals. Expected take in increased taxes: $4.2 million in 2018 and $4.9 million per year after that. Welcome to Utah, Life Elevated — and Taxed!

Soaking drinkers • Tucked into the Zion Curtain reform legislation are millions of dollars of increased markups and renewal, training and license fees. House Bill 442, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, raises markups and fees by $4.4 million in 2018 and over $5.1 million in 2019. The answer to the question, "What does it take to get drink around here?" is now, "A lot more than before."

Thankfully, the Legislature scrapped plans to increase food and income taxes, as well as efforts to unconstitutionally force out-of-state retailers to collect online sales tax. And a proposal to raise property taxes by an additional $20 million failed just a few seconds before the session ended at midnight as lawmakers were considering the bill.

But the governor, who last year proclaimed taxes are the "economic engine" of government, and like-minded legislative leaders are promising these tax "reforms" (a euphemism only a politician would use for tax hikes) are only delayed, but not dead.

Beware your already plundered pocketbooks. The Legislature and the governor: They'll be back.

Jonathan Johnson is the chairman of the board of Overstock.com, the president of Medici Ventures and a former gubernatorial candidate in Utah.

 

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