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Utah lawmakers gear up for special session on tax reform

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Dec. 12, 2019 at 2:54 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers are returning to the Utah Capitol Thursday evening to hash out a potential plan to alter the state’s tax system.

The special session, which Gov. Herbert ordered Tuesday, centers around a bill that would raise sales tax on items such as food, gas and some other services, while also implementing a $160 million income tax cut.

John Valentine, chairman of the Utah State Tax Commission, appeared on KSL NewsRadio’s “Dave & Dujanovic” Thursday morning to explain the plan. He said the income tax changes were proposed to “undue the impact” a 2017 federal tax cut placed on Utah families. How Utahns will be affected by the proposed tax changes depends on different variables.

“We’re giving more of the benefit to people who have lots of dependants and for people who work in the lower income tax brackets. That’s where the majority of this benefit is going to be focused on,” Valentine said. “If you have a lot of children, you’re going to see a higher benefit.”

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams also spoke on the show, noting a few alterations to the plan leading up to Thursday night’s session. Realizing any approved changes would come too late to be adjusted into tax return programs, the alterations include a rebate for people who lost dependent exemptions in the federal tax changes and a pre-bate regarding the proposed food tax increase.

The rebate check would be sent to Utah families sometime around February or March and the pre-bate would be sent around July 1, 2020, Adams said. The pre-bate is $125 per person up to four dependents, he added.

Those proposed changes come as the plan to increase the sales tax on food led to concerns from experts. The bill proposed would increased food sales tax from 1.75% to 4.85%.

Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, called that plan “morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible.”

“We’re not at peace with it,” she said. “We still think it’s a bad idea and two-thirds of Utahns think it’s a bad idea. It’s a very regressive tax and it’s going to have a disproportionate on low-income families and households that have fixed incomes.”

Should the bill pass, Valentine said the state will work quickly to implement it into the tax code.

“We’ll be giving new calculated withholding tables to employers before the end of the year,” he said. “It’ll be up to the employers to deploy those new tables and be able to put that money back into their employees’ pockets.”

Contributing: Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic, KSL NewsRadio

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