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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah governor sees the controversial inland port as an economic “beachhead” that will help sustain prosperity in the state.
Mike Leavitt, a Republican who served from 1993 to 2003, said 25 years from now people are going to be taking the Utah Inland Port for granted as part of the foundation of Utah’s economy.
“Political controversy is an odd thing,” he said, recalling the “ugly” fight over building light rail more than two decades ago.
“There were protests. There were all the things you see today in particular discussions,” he said. “But it’s now part of a foundation of Utah’s population.”
Leavitt spoke Friday at the Utah Economic Outlook & Public Policy Summit put on by the Salt Lake Chamber. He focused his remarks on political and economic risks the state took over the past 25 years that proved successful, including hosting the Olympics and making the state a high tech hub.
The chamber outlined its priorities for the upcoming legislative session, including sustaining the state’s robust business and economic environment, strengthening education funding and outcomes and closing the housing gap.
The inland port project planned in northwest Salt Lake City to maximize Utah’s place in the global import and export economy with a network of trucks, trains and air connections has drawn sometimes violent protests. Opponents say it will increase air pollution and other environmental impacts and truck and rail traffic on the Wasatch Front.
Leavitt also touched on another controversial subject that has “generated some heat” among Utahns.
Tax reform isn’t perfect but lawmakers and the governor are doing the right thing, he said.
“They’re doing the right thing because it will begin to protect the economic beachheads that we have now and need to develop in the future,” Leavitt said. “How do I know it? Because the past is prologue.”
Citizens’ groups are gathering signatures for a November referendum on the tax package, which includes an income tax cut but adds more sales tax on items like food, gas and other services.
How do I know it? Because the past is prologue.
–Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor
State lawmakers say people have misconceptions about tax reform.
Although some might question raising the sales tax on food, it makes revenue more stable, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, during a panel discussion at the summit.
“When the economy tanks, people quit buying furniture, cars and homes but they keep buying food, and that brings stability,” he said.
To answer questions about whether it’s morally right to raise the food tax, Adams said lawmakers added earned income tax credits, a food credit and a $2,500 per dependent exemption, totaling $10,000 for a family of four.
“I would say we talk a lot about Utah being the best spot for business, today economically we are the best spot for families. No other state in the nation has a $10,000 dependent exemption for families,” he said.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said one of the main goals of reform is to make a great economy even better. Legislators raised the gas and food taxes, but “did much bigger tax cuts” that amounted to $160 million overall reduction. The average Utah family will save about $500 a year after all the taxes are adjusted, he said.
“We actually believe with the lower income tax rate that it will actually be really helpful for our business community because corporate tax rates also went down,” he said. “As you tax productivity differently, it actually has an ability to have everyone’s boats rise together.”