State tax reform task force planning statewide tour this summer

State tax reform task force planning statewide tour this summer

(Carter Williams,, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature's new tax reform task force is planning on completing an eight-stop tour of the state by the end of July, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

"We'll really focus on why we're doing this and possible solutions," House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, the co-chairman of the task force, told members of the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee.

No dates have been set for the town hall meetings and what's being called the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force, appointed by legislative leaders just last week, also has yet to meet.

The interim committee heard a brief report from legislative staff on the state's sales tax revenues lagging as consumer spending shifts from goods to services that aren't subject to the tax.

An attempt last session to extend sales taxes to a wide range of services including haircuts, lawn care and legal assistance while lowering both the sales and income tax rates ended up being scrapped amid protests from the business community.

The report offered four possible solutions: Do nothing, expand the tax base, add a new but unspecified type of tax and eliminate what was referred to as silos, earmarks that restrict how revenues can be used.

Also during the 2019 Legislature, lawmakers looked briefly at starting the process to amend the Utah Constitution, which needs voter approval, to remove the restriction on using income tax collections only for public and higher education.

The committee took no public testimony, but Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said the task force will provide updates throughout the interim. The first status report is required to be made in June.

Gibson said any proposed legislation from the task force will be brought back to the committee.

Re-examining the state's tax structure will be "a monumental task. It's not something I take lightly," said Gibson, who is also a member of the interim committee. "We'll also keep all of you informed."

The goal is "not just put a Band-Aid on something but find a solution that will be lasting 15 to 20 years from now," he said, which "may take political courage. It may take some strength to do it. But I think we were all elected to do hard things."

The House majority leader said the task force was discussed during the closed-door Republican caucus earlier Wednesday. Senate Republicans, who also hold a supermajority, talked about the task force in their closed caucus meeting as well.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said Senate Republicans also focused on the need for a lasting fix to the state's growing structural budget imbalance.

Vickers said there was no talk of whether tax reform should be dealt with in a special session of the Legislature later this year or to wait until the next regular session begins in late January 2020.

That issue came up a recent Utah Eagle Forum panel discussion on tax reform. The conservative group, which opposes adding sales taxes to services, said tax reform is too complicated to deal with in a special session.

The Senate co-chairman of the task force, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said in an interview he is "more concerned about doing it right than doing it quick. I would hope we could get it done and have a special session."

Still, the former longtime Senate budget chairman said, "There's no way to predict. This thing is so huge."

Hillyard said he and Gibson plan to sit down Thursday to schedule the town hall meetings.

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