If you’re like me, when you hear “tax policy,” your eyes gloss over and your brain downshifts to a lower gear. Caaaan’t compute.
You justify your disengagement by acknowledging that there are other people who can tackle those complex number-y issues (like my smart colleagues).
Except, here’s the thing, friends: We can’t afford — literally — to disengage this time. The state’s tax reform task force has proposed a restructuring policy so horrific, even Sean Spicer in a frilly neon dance costume would give it side eye.
There are several problematic parts making up the disastrous whole proposed by Rep. Francis Gibson and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, but there are two things in particular that seem at best like a reckless abandonment of our community values and at worst a purposeful attack on our lower income families.
The first is the gargantuan hike of the tax on food — like, more than two and a half times the current tax rate. On food. FOOD!
This, coming at a time when Utahns Against Hunger report that roughly 363,000 Utahns already experience food insecurity.
The lawmakers say they’ll make up for this by giving people a break on their taxes. But that assumes people apply for the break and it assumes that they’ll be able to meter out the refund they receive in April for the rest of the year, but that’s pretty dismissive of the realities of living paycheck to paycheck.
The thing is, when your income is lower, the percentage of all your funds that go toward food is already disproportionately high, because even if you can’t afford fancy clothes or vacations or a mortgage, you still have to eat. So, let’s imagine for a second what devastating impact the proposed food tax would have on the hardworking Utahns already struggling to feed their families — not to mention how many more would join them when buying life-sustaining food becomes even more difficult.
Of all the available places to find funds to fill the state’s coffers, can we collectively decide that food money isn’t one of them? Because with all due respect, increasing the tax on food is a fiscal flipping-off to hungry Utahns.
We can do better.
The second part of the tax proposal giving me the mouth sweats is the income tax break that would essentially take millions of dollars from public education (the total cut is estimated at nearly $400 million) and since we all pay the same rate, that means the bulk of that tax cut will go to people will high salaries.
Since 1946, all income tax has been earmarked to be spent on education. The task force wants to change that, too, in addition to disastrously reducing that fund. We’re already the worst in the nation for education spending per pupil; let’s use every dollar available to raise that bar as far as we can.
I’m sure there are decent arguments for why Utah’s tax system needs tweaking, but there just has to be a better way than this.
Utah, we are a community of compassionate and rational people (for the most part), who are responsible for one another’s well-being — because none of us can rise until we all do.
We have the choice right now to ensure access to food and quality education — which literally and figuratively fuel our growth and progress — or we can postpone our investments until the chasm between the haves and the have-nots is so wide our efforts can’t be proactive, but instead reactionary to the desperate needs poverty presents.
If you’d prefer the former, then write and call your state legislators asking them their stance on tax reform. Ask them if they care if each of us has enough to eat. Ask them if they value the constitutional earmark that funds education. Ask them if they support ALL Utahs, not just the affluent ones.
And then share their responses with your friends and family, so we can all be aware of who is fighting for us and who is fighting only for themselves.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.