Well, we asked for it.
Last week we asked the Legislature for a robust and open debate on taxes. On Monday, they gave us reason for a robust and open debate on taxes. It just wasn’t the debate we thought we’d be having.
The Legislature has been working on tax reform for over a year. Utah needs more revenue, presumably from a larger tax base. The question is how to get it. Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget finds additional revenue without raising taxes. The Legislature, though, has signaled that it plans to raise taxes, or at least wants to capture the savings Utahns would have enjoyed from the federal tax cut passed last year.
Complicating the tax debate is the Our Schools Now ballot initiative that has put pressure on the Legislature to increase taxes to fund education.
Which is why the Legislature’s actions early this week make little sense.
Instead of openly debating where and how we will adequately raise revenue to fund state priorities like education, transportation, mental health treatment and air quality, the Utah House passed a bill on Monday that will give a $1.72 million annual break in fees to – its members’ biggest donor – EnergySolutions radioactive waste company.
To make matters worse, Rep. Mike Shultz, R-Hooper, has introduced a bill to cancel out any tax increase that voters approve with the Our Schools Now ballot initiative.
In other words, the Legislature just gave Utah the middle finger.
Supporters of the EnergySolutions break argue that the company needs it to survive, because competing companies in surrounding states charge less than Utah does. But the company is doing so well, despite this high burden, that it attempted to buy a rival Texas company last June.
A judge blocked the purchase as a violation of federal antitrust laws, because, as the AP reported, the companies are “the only two licensed commercial low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities for 36 states,” notwithstanding the supposed rival companies in surrounding states.
And while legislators were quick to extoll the environmental virtue of EnergySolutions, an article just last month reported that there are, in fact, environmental concerns. In 2015 the state Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control requested that the state fine the company $50,000 for violating its permit terms 11 times in a two-year period. It took two years for the violations to even become public.
It’s up to the Senate now to reject choosing corporate winners and losers and get back to identifying additional revenue to adequately fund education, mental health treatment, transportation and air quality.
Clarification: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said the bill would give EnergySolutions a tax break. It would lower inspection fees the company pays — if the Legislature decides to cover that annually with money from the state’s general fund, which mostly comes from taxes.