Legislative task force coming to St. George for town hall on state tax reform

The Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Utah, March 8, 2018 | File photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The legislature’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force will be making an appearance in St. George Saturday with the aim of gathering public input prior to making another attempt to fundamentally alter Utah’s tax structure.

This is the fourth meeting members of the task force will be holding out of eight town halls planned across the state.

The public can offer suggestions and meet with elected representatives at an open house at 1 p.m. or attend a town hall event at 2 p.m. at Dixie Technical College.

Lyle Hillyard, R-District 25, is a member of the task force and has previously told St. George News that Utah is seeing a period of economic prosperity, making this a good opportunity to address projected problems in the state budget.

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

Hillyard is specifically referring to the way in which sales taxes are applied in Utah. Taxable goods, for instance, have comprised the bulk of the state’s sales tax base since the 1930s. In the modern era, however, services and other nontaxable goods have grown in comparison.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, date and location not specified | Profile of the Utah Senate, St. George News

According to Hillyard, that shift has left Utah with an inability to maintain its tax base in line with Utah’s growing population.

The committee has appointed 10 elected representatives and four tax experts to develop ideas under the auspices of HB 495. The task force will compile suggestions from the public into tax reform proposals for the legislature to review during a special session in September.

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-District 62, says it’s encouraging the task force has made the decision to focus on Southern Utah.

“I personally prefer ‘no new taxes’ as I believe that we are taxed quite enough already,” he previously told St. George News.

A substantive proposal has not officially been made under the HB 495 banner. The circumstances surrounding this new attempt to reform the state’s taxes, however, have brought concern from organizations the newly proposed bill may follow a similar outline to HB 441.

That bill, which was pulled during the legislature’s previous session, was met with opposition from business leaders concerned about the attempt to apply sales taxes to a broader base of goods and services.

A recent presentation to the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force on May 30 suggested that the state of Utah faces three major challenges: the changing economy, a growing state population and an outdated revenue system.

Jonathan Ball, a legislative fiscal analyst, conducted the presentation which concluded that although there has been growth in the state’s general fund — primarily funded through sales taxes — it is considered insufficient to address modern needs.

“Our secret, it’s out,” Ball said of Utah’s high population growth from 2010 to 2018. “Our society is changing but our tax structure isn’t.”

Despite the analysis at the state level, the Utah Tax Reform Coalition, a self-described nonpartisan organization looking for open dialogue on tax reform, has been touring the state as well.

The organization recently held a meeting at the St. George Library looking to address some of the information coming out of the legislature.

Utah Tax Reform Coalition Executive Director Krista Palmer said the state’s prior attempt to reform taxes got her off the bench in a big hurry.

“The sales tax base has not been declining, it’s been growing,” she said.

Echoing a similar sentiment, sales taxes and education funding have been a major focus for members of the public during the first few town halls held across the state by the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force.

Following a smattering of visits to several areas across the state in late June, the task force will be taking a short break after Saturday’s appearance in St. George.

Its next town hall event will take place July 8 in Davis and Weber counties, Roosevelt July 9, Moab July 20 and Utah County July 30.

A review of the task force’s recommendations will be completed in the September special session, with a vote possible on the final version of the tax reform bill at that time.

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