Commentary: Let’s reform the tax system sooner than later

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) New Senate President Stuart Adams conducts business in the Utah State Senate on the first day of the 2019 legislative session at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Asking people if they want a tax increase is like asking some of my patients if they want a flu shot.

“No way!” comes the response from kids. “It just makes me sick,” is a common reply from others — like many of you.

Most who succumb to my pleading accept the fact that, more often than not, it helps prevent serious illness. Sure, we get a sore arm for a couple of days. But about half the time the vaccine helps keep kids in school, mom and dad at work and grandma out of the hospital.

Is House Bill 441 a “flu shot” meant to keep us healthy?


The problem with sales tax in Utah stems from a change in our tax revenues from a goods-based to a more service-based economy. Thus, the sales tax that makes up our general fund will soon not be enough to pay for public safety, social services and transportation. We expect to double in population by 2050. Finally, some “special interest” groups don’t pay sales tax, for one (good) reason or another.

Why not simply increase the sales tax on our remaining goods to pay for what we need?

Most claim it wouldn’t be fair. The tax “shot” would hurt too much and might just make us financially sick.

I am also reminded that “whatever you tax, you get less of it,” meaning we have less money in our wallets to spend on other things.

Therefore, the “Utah solution” in HB 441 is to spread the misery evenly to as many people as possible, but also lower the overall rate. More people pay for services rendered, but the amount is small. In the long term, the sales taxes received will be enough to cover the needs of our growing state.

Professional services will be taxed – attorneys, accountants, engineers and others. But not doctors. Health care is a special interest group that escapes a direct tax, though there will be a new 1 percent tax on medical insurance premiums.

Sensitive to the current struggle in rising health care costs among Utahns, I have mixed feelings in not assessing three cents on the dollar for those who come to my office and can afford a co-pay or deductible. I want to do my share, being the gander after all.

Let’s encourage our elected leaders to give us the inoculation we need to prevent illness in the future. It simply good medicine, even though it might hurt for awhile.

Brian Zehnder

Brian Zehnder, M.D., is a family physician, a former Utah state senator and current medical director of the Exodus Healthcare Network in Magna.

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