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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- As it did when a flat-tax reform was moving through the Legislature years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is arguing that any such tax must continue to provide deductions for contributions to charity.
A flat-rate income tax is among options that will be considered by the newly formed Tax Reform Task Force.
"We did this, had many recommendations and changes" to the Utah tax code back in the mid-1980s, said Mark Buchi, a former state tax commissioner who worked on previous tax reform measures. "But over time, the reform eroded" as many citizens complained to their lawmakers about tax changes.
"And the (reforms) were taken away" by legislators, he said.
In 1987, the Utah House passed a pure flat-rate income tax that had no deductions.
However, Jerry Cahill, the spokesman for the church at the time, said its leaders opposed the idea of no charitable deductions.
They weren't worried about the church's tithes, just about the damage to other charities, legislators were told.
Days later, Senate leaders announced there was little support for the flat-rate bill.
Asked Thursday if the 1987 statement on a flat-rate tax without charitable deductions still stands, church spokesman Dale Bills issued a statement saying:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges the thoughtful efforts of many in state government to review Utah's tax structure. For the overall good of the citizenry, the state tax system should continue to provide tax deductions for charitable giving -- including religious contributions. Charitable contributions help provide for society's poor and needy, education and the arts, and other important social needs."
Supporters of a pure flat-rate income tax say history has shown that doing away with the mortgage interest deduction does not harm housing markets and eliminating the charitable deduction would not harm charitable giving, either.
Brigham Young University business professor Gary Cornia, who was part of the tax-reform study group put together last year by former Gov. Olene Walker that recommended a flat-rate tax, told the new Tax Reform Task Force on Thursday that a number of studies from around the world show that doing away with those deductions has little or no impact on how society operates in those areas.
Cornia said studies showed that economies actually grow when tax systems are reformed to broaden the tax base while lowering the tax rate.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)