Lawmaker blasts property tax exemption for Utah soldiers

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SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins went off for the second day in a row over a proposed property tax exemption for members of the military called to active duty, saying they don't need any more breaks.

The Plain City Republican blasted the legislation, calling bill sponsor Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, a "bleeding heart" in the process.

Soldiers, he said, know what they're getting into when they enlist and already receive "lots and lots and lots of advantages."

Your bleeding heart is saying, 'OK, Sen. Jenkins, we want you now to pay for their taxes.' Well, I'm saying enough.

–Sen. Scott Jenkins

"We give them all kinds of breaks. We pay for their clothing. We allow them to shop at the PX," said Jenkins, who served 7 years in the National Guard. "And now you're forcing me, your bleeding heart is saying, 'OK, Sen. Jenkins, we want you now to pay for their taxes.' Well, I'm saying enough."

The Senate on Wednesday voted 24-4 on both a bill, SB116, and a resolution to allow the tax waiver. The resolution, SJR8, calls for an amendment to the state constitution for the exemption, which voters would have to approve in November.

Property owners statewide would pay about $1 more in taxes should the amendment pass, according to legislative fiscal analysts.

"Truly, this is a small way of saying thank you as a state," Robles said in Senate floor debate Tuesday. "I don't think it's a huge burden."

On Wednesday, retired Army Gen. Peter S. Cooke called on Gov. Gary Herbert as commander-in-chief of the Utah National Guard to denounce Jenkins' "shocking diatribe."

Sen. Jenkins talked about our soldiers like they're gaming the system. It was an attack on our American heroes.

–Retired Army Gen. Peter S. Cook

"Hill Air Force Base is adjacent to Jenkins’ district. These men and women are his constituents," said Cooke, a Democratic candidate for governor.

"Sen. Jenkins talked about our soldiers like they’re gaming the system. It was an attack on our American heroes, who protect our freedoms, day in and day out, on battlefields around the world."

But Jenkins said Thursday he didn't intend to offend military personnel, rather he's worried the money for the tax break would cause ripple effects — creating bureaucracy and taking money from other places.

"I'm very supportive of (soldiers). They mean a lot to me," Jenkins said. "But this is just one of those cases where I thought I was being put in the center of it, which is why I reacted like I did."

But military families — even though they volunteer, as Jenkins pointed out — still suffer hardships. Gen. Jefferson Burton, of the Utah National Guard, says about 530 Guard members are deployed right now; 560 will deploy this year.

Average increase
  • $1.03 per owner of a $250,000 home
  • $7.68 per $1 million business
Source: Legislative fiscal analysts

"We have soldiers who have been deployed five to six times," Burton said. "When you add that up, you have soldiers who have been deployed five out of the last 10 years. ... and so the burden has been heavy."

If the approximately 1,600 active military members in the state received the exemption, it would result in a $2.1 million property tax reduction, legislative fiscal analysts say. Due to truth in taxation, about 901,000 property owners who are not active military members would see a corresponding tax increase after five years.

To qualify for the exemption, soldiers would have to actively serve in the U.S. armed forces or reserves outside the state for 200 days in a calendar year, according to the bill. The state would then waive property tax on their primary residence the following year.

Because the resolution proposes a constitutional amendment, it needed a two-thirds majority or at least 20 votes in the Senate before moving to the House, where it also needs a two-thirds majority vote.

Sens. David Hinkins, R-Orangville; Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, joined Jenkins in voting against the measures.

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Dennis Romboy


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