Poll: Utahns Don't Want to Lose Charitable Tax Breaks

Poll: Utahns Don't Want to Lose Charitable Tax Breaks

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Most Utah residents want to retain a tax break encouraging donations to organizations like the Mormon church, according to a newspaper poll published Saturday.

The Legislature's Tax Reform Task Force is considering doing away with income tax deductions and implementing a flat tax. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders said in a statement last week the deductions should be retained.

The Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and reported Saturday, found that Utah residents like the idea of a flat-rate income tax, but only if it keeps the current deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest and dependent children.

Asked if they supported a flat-rate income tax with a rate of 4 percent but without deductions, 70 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat oppose such a tax. Only 27 percent favor it, Jones found in a survey conducted between May 31 and June 2. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Gov. Jon Huntsman met with LDS Church leaders Friday, in part to discuss the church's opposition to removing charitable deductions from state income taxes.

"They likely talked about a number of items, including the flat-rate tax but not only the flat-rate tax," said Huntsman spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi, who didn't attend the meeting. Huntsman routinely meets with LDS Church leaders, as he does with representatives of other groups, said Kikuchi. But this meeting was scheduled over the past several days, and so was not on a weekly schedule of Huntsman's activities posted to Capitol Hill reporters a week ago Friday.

In the poll, results flipped when respondents were asked if they supported a flat-rate tax of 5 percent on personal income that still kept the current deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest and dependent children. Sixty-six percent of Utah residents favor that kind of a tax, while only 24 percent oppose it, according to the poll.

"There are still those who would pay their tithing regardless of the tax breaks," said Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years. "But some people believe they can't afford to pay their taxes and make all of their charitable giving, too."

Tax reform was one of Huntsman's campaign promises last year.

He and the 2005 Legislature decided to set up a special task force to look at the state's overall tax system.

In December, outgoing Gov. Olene Walker issued a lengthy tax reform proposal, which included a recommendation that Utah go to a flat-rate personal income tax. Walker's tax study group suggested two kinds of flat-rate tax, one that had no deductions, with a rate of 4 percent, and one keeping the main deductions with a 5 percent rate.

If the 4 percent rate was picked, the state's income tax system would become so simple a Utah citizen could file taxes on a postcard-sized return, state Tax Commission officials told the task force.

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

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