Coronavirus may kill a Utah tax cut

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Gary Herbert gives one of his monthly news conferences to reporters at the Eccles Broadcast Center's KUED Studios on the University of Utah campus, Feb. 21, 2013.

The spread of coronavirus has claimed a different sort of victim: a potential tax cut in Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that a hoped-for tax cut may be dumped to handle health and economic threats from the virus. Also, he said President Donald Trump has downplayed the seriousness of the disease, and Herbert may even cancel upcoming foreign trade trips because of it.

“I think everybody would like to have a tax cut,” Herbert said at his monthly news conference on PBS Utah. “The question is can we do it? Is it prudent to do it in light of recent events?”

He said it likely is not wise given the threat from a potential coronavirus pandemic.

“It has the potential to be very devastating not only to public health, but to our economy,” he said. “It’s caused people to say, ‘Whoa. Let’s wait and see.' ”

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He said it could be similar to how the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks caused economic slowdowns.

“I think that creates uncertainty,” which means taxes may not generate as much in the future, making a tax cut unwise. “Uncertainty means we pause, we think and we wait.”

Herbert also said Trump has been walking a fine line between trying not to cause a panic but to urge people to be prepared — and said the president perhaps downplayed threats too much.

“I think he’s somewhat downplaying the severity of the potential of the problem,” Herbert said. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also said this week that the Trump administration is ill-prepared for the possibility the coronavirus may spread in the United States and “should be pulling out all the stops.”

The governor said that he’s not just relying on the federal government to handle coronavirus.

“Certainly, I’m not relying on Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I’m relying on our people here in the state. That’s what every state should be doing.”

He said the state is in constant contact with a network of health officials tracking the disease, and feels Congress also will appropriate sufficient money for a national effort against the disease.

“I’m comfortable with where we are at, certainly in the state of Utah and I expect the federal government to do its part, too,” he said. “We’re going to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

Herbert was asked why he used the word “pandemic” when Trump and others are hesitant to do so.

“Pandemic heightens concern, but it is the potential as we see it spreading to different countries around the world,” he said. “We don’t want to undersell it. We don’t want to overhype it either.”

But it is serious enough that the governor says he’s considering canceling international trade trips that he had planned.

“We may not be able to do them because of this potential pandemic,” he said. “It is a serious issue, but I don’t want to overreact either and act like the sky is falling. I think we will weather the storm.”

Herbert noted that during the SARS virus outbreak years ago, people started using elbow or fist bumps to avoid shaking hands. “Maybe that’s something we need to bring back until we get a handle on this.”

Herbert also sought to calm worry by noting that coronavirus generally causes only mild to moderate illness in most people who are infected.

“Eighty percent of the cases out there are mild, which means you might have fatigue,” he said. “Fifteen percent are moderate [with] headache and traditional types of flu symptoms. And 5% are severe. That’s where we end up having fatalities. It has a little higher fatality rate than traditional flu, and that’s the cause of concern and because it’s so easily spread.”