Seegmiller considers solutions as tax reform task force prepares for state tour

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ST. GEORGE — State Rep. Travis Seegmiller says he is looking forward to a visit by the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force later this month. 

The committee, made up of 10 elected representatives and four tax experts, will embark on a state tour beginning June 25 in northern Utah before making its way to St. George four days later.

Seegmiller, R-District 62, says he is “glad that the legislature is focusing so much on St. George with this effort.” The task force is primarily composed of representatives of the Salt Lake City metro area.

Seegmiller says that in his opinion the highest priority of the 2020 legislative session should be reducing government spending before assessing how to lower the overall tax burden. If new taxes are required in the solution, other taxes should be decreased to offset the additional cost to residents and businesses.

“I personally prefer ‘no new taxes’ as I believe that we are taxed quite enough already,” he said.

Instead of “taking new and additional money” from taxpayers, a simpler solution might be to amend the state constitution to allow income taxes to flow to additional areas of the state budget, he continued.

To begin work on possible solutions, Seegmiller said he is preparing legislation he believes would “lower the overall tax rate for all Utahns.” He hopes the proposal will be included in the task force’s agenda.

Utah Rep. Travis Seegmiller speaks at a groundbreaking for Revere Health’s one-stop health center, St. George, Utah, Dec. 14, 2018 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

“Cut government spending in a big way so that we can also cut taxes in a big way, too. That would be true reform.”

After the series of town hall meetings, the task force will take the ideas presented in each location and make them into agenda items that they will discuss during committee meetings at the capitol. The task force is also opening a website in the next couple of days where people will be able to send in their comments and concerns.

For Seegmiller, one of the major priorities of the task force should be focusing on tax cuts for those that, in his opinion, “most deserve it.” Under his legislation, for instance, public school educators would receive a “commensurate tax break.”

He said he is looking forward to attending the listening tour when the task force visits Southern Utah. The Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force is visiting eight locations around Utah from June 25 to July 30. St. George will be the fourth stop.

Task force member Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-District 25 said Utah is seeing a period of economic prosperity, which is the perfect time to address projected problems in the state budget and tax structure.

Due to the state’s relative financial security, he says the task force has the flexibility to adapt to statewide trends and changes.

“We do see a very serious problem coming down the road,” he said. “Spending habits are changing.”

Since the 1930s, taxable goods have regularly comprised the majority of consumer purchases. Over time, however, services and nontaxable goods have shifted to become the bulk of consumer spending. This shift, according to Hillyard, has caused the sales tax base to shrink relative to population growth.

The task force is attempting to reform the current tax structure in a way that would expand the tax base to develop with and support Utah’s high population growth.

Hillyard said that if tax reform doesn’t pass, he fears the state will be unable to address the increased demand on public safety, health and human services, public employees and clean air.

Addressing those concerns during a time of economic stability keeps the state from attempting to solve a future problem with the state’s general fund with fewer options, he said.

“We have purposely not put anything on the table as being a proposal to solve the problem because we want people to think about it and give us ideas that, hopefully, will help us solve the problem.”

On June 29 at 1 p.m., the task force will host an open house where members of the committee will be available to answer questions in an informal setting. Presentations by the task force will begin at 2 p.m. and will have a specified time limit to encourage an efficient session. The session will be held at the Dixie Technical College auditorium and lobby at 610 S. Tech Ridge Drive.

“It really will be wide open for the people who come and feel like they didn’t get a chance to express their feelings – they will get to do it on the website – and for those who can’t come,” Hillyard said. “Everyone can follow along and give their suggestions.”

The task force was formed through HB495 and stemmed from the failure of a tax legislation bill in this year’s session. HB441 was pulled from consideration in the face of opposition from businesses and consumers. The task force held its first meeting on May 30, when members drafted a general set of principles they plan to follow as they attempt to restructure the state’s taxes.

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