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Legislators Approve Tax Break for Citizen Soldiers

Legislators Approve Tax Break for Citizen Soldiers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Legislators meeting in special session agreed on spending more than $8.7 million, mostly to give tax breaks to members of National Guard and reserve units serving over seas.

The soldiers' exemption from paying state income taxes on their military earnings will cost the state about $5.5 million. Full-time military personnel will not get the tax break.

In their three-hour special session Wednesday, the legislators approved $3.1 million for work at the state prison at Point of the Mountain, much of it to expand housing for women inmates.

They agreed to spend $152,000 to protect the archaeological finds at the state's recently acquired at Range Creek 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

The Legislature also approved technical change to legislation passed last session that dealt with bank trustees.

All of the measures passed easily.

Questions had been raised about the military tax-break proposal, with critics say it possibly could be challenged as discriminating against full-time military personnel.

The legislators approved language spelling out that the tax break was aimed at the part-time soldiers whose lives have been disrupted because they've been called up to serve overseas.

"This is in no way disrespecting the full-time military personnel," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

Bramble said the tax break would amount to as much as $2,500 for a Utah family. The exemption is for this year only, but legislators will consider making it permanent at their 2005 session.

Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake and a former 3rd District judge, urged approval of the corrections spending, saying the growth in the number of female inmates has been "almost shockingly dramatic."

Daniels also said that if lawmakers keep adopting policies that put people behind bars for longer periods of time, "the state is going to go bankrupt in a couple of years."

The Range Creek proposal was approve 72-0 in the House and 25-2 in the Senate, with Republican Sens. Thomas Hatch of Panguitch and Bill Wright of Tooele.

Lawmakers earlier had disagreed over how much money to set aside to protect the 4,200-acre ranch, which the state bought in June. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, said he would tinker with the language to accommodate those who felt too much money was being spent at the site, which contains thousands of artifacts in pristine condition and has been called a national treasure.

Instead of taking all $152,000 from the state's $110 million surplus, Bigelow's revised bill took $102,000 from the surplus. It took the remaining $50,000 away from the $200,000 lawmakers had given the University of Utah to study and catalog the site.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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