Revenue Surplus Generates Talk of Tax Cuts

Revenue Surplus Generates Talk of Tax Cuts

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The latest estimate of Utah's revenue surplus is more than $91 million, and that is generating talk of tax cuts.

Tax collections exceeded expectations by $91.1 million in the first four months of the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the state Tax Commission. The surplus has increased by more than $27 million in the past month alone.

If this continued through the fiscal year, the state would have around $275 million extra.

The growth in jobs, construction and "new revenue data indicate Utah is in a major economic expansion," said Doug Macdonald, chief economist for the Tax Commission.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said that likely will mean a tax cut.

"When the economy is growing at such an unexpected rate, and government revenues are substantially more than anticipated, we must look at returning them," he said.

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said he believes the latest revenue report adds weight to a position he took two weeks ago: "Take the sales tax off food, and do so without raising other taxes."

However, he also said that while it's clear the first four months of the fiscal year are showing "some fairly robust growth, it's the first four months."

Lawmakers shouldn't get too excited about building budgets based on early and still volatile revenue figures, he said.

Mike Mower, spokesman for Gov. Jon Huntsman, said, "Tax reform may result in some lower sales tax on food and a lower income tax. But it is still early in fiscal year 2006 (to assume huge revenue surpluses this year). Still, we are pleased with the direction and trend of Utah's economy as indicated by these numbers."

Curtis has proposed removing the state and local sales tax from food and raising the sales tax rates slightly on nonfood items to make up most of the lost revenue. His plan would give about a $37 million sales tax cut overall.

Valentine wants to remove the food tax completely and cut state programs by $166 million (the state's portion of the tax) as need be. Curtis and legislative Democrats have said there are too many needs to just take all of the tax off at one time.

But Curtis said Monday that if the revenues keep coming in like this "and we end up with around $300 million in surplus, (the Valentine plan) is doable."

Huntsman ran last year on a campaign platform that included removing the sales tax from food, although he has not offered a plan to do that.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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