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Senate leader opposes tax break for military members

Published February 15, 2012 5:29 pm

Military • Legislation would waive property taxes for the deployed.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After a GOP leader argued testily that members of the military already enjoy enough perks, a closer-than-expected vote in the Senate passed legislation to waive property taxes for soldiers who are deployed out of state. But Democrats howled about perceived Republican insensitivity to the military.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, complained in debate to supporters of the tax break, "Your bleeding heart is saying, 'OK, Senator Jenkins, we want you now to pay for their taxes.' Well, I'm saying enough. I don't want to pay for my own taxes, let alone theirs."

The Senate voted 24-4 to approve both SJR8 and SB116 by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and sent them to the House. Both are needed to waive the tax.

While that may look like a wide margin, it was just four votes more than the two-thirds needed to pass SJR8 because it is a constitutional amendment. To be enacted into law, it must also pass the House by a two-thirds majority and be approved by a majority of voters in an election. Robles and others pleaded with senators to allow voters to decide the issue.

While the legislation faced no controversy in committee, Jenkins attacked it on the floor saying members of the military already receive "all kinds of breaks. We pay for their clothing. We allow them to shop at the PX [post exchange]. And now, Senator Robles, you want me to pay for their taxes on their primary residence. I'm just saying enough."

Jenkins, who served for seven years in the National Guard, said military members indeed sacrifice to serve, but they know that when they volunteer. He said they are paid, have college tuition benefits and enjoy possible early retirement. "I'm telling you, Guardsmen get lots and lots and lots of advantages. And I'm just saying this is too much."

It led to a counterattack by Democrats. They sent out a statement by retired Major Gen. Peter Cooke, a Democrat running for governor, criticizing Jenkins, and calling for Gov. Gary Herbert as commander-in-chief of the Utah National Guard to denounce Jenkins' statements.

"Senator Jenkins talked about our soldiers like they're gaming the system," Cooke said. "The hardships that their families experience during deployment are real, and more than many of the families are able to survive. We should be doing everything we can to support those families during deployment."

Jenkins responded to Cooke's attack by saying he is trying to stick to the principle "that you can't favor one group at the expense of another group, and that's what this is."

Under the legislation, military members and their spouses, would qualify to have the property taxes on their primary residence waived in a year when they have served outside Utah on active federal duty for 200 consecutive days, or for 200 days in a calendar year. They would need to apply for the tax break with their home county every year.

"Here's our shared sacrifice, if only this little bit," Robles said about the legislation. She added that it would increase taxes on other homes by about $1 each. "If it costs me a dollar, I will do it" to show thanks.

A fiscal note attached to SB116 reported that property taxes would rise by $1.03 on a $250,000 home and $7.68 on a $1 million business.

ldavidson@sltrib.com