Utah tax reform hits poor and rural residents the hardest

Originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, December 29th, 2019

In a special legislative session called by Gov. Gary Herbert recently, our elected officials decided to package a tax hike under the guise of a tax break, and now they’re patting themselves on the back for it.

Those of us in economically depressed and rural parts of the state are going to feel the brunt of the burden once again. And what’s worse? We’ll probably re-elect the people who did it to us.

In short, the new code amounts to an income tax break of less than half a percent, meaning the average household in rural Utah will keep about $150 more next year than they did in 2019. That’s about $6 dollars per paycheck for those keeping track. To cover for that tax break, our elected officials decided that their constituents should pay more for the one thing we all need — food.

If you live in Carbon or Emery county, your elected officials voted to raise the price of your groceries. Think about that. Our legislators saw fit to pass a bill that raises the tax on chicken and cereal from 1.75% to 4.85%. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much when you consider a single trip to the grocery store, but it’s pretty significant in the world of annual state budgets and household incomes.

According to the USDA, families with the lowest incomes in the country spend as much as 35% of their paycheck on groceries. For most people in rural Utah, one-third of every dollar they make goes to food. In comparison, the most wealthy spend around 8% of their total income on eating. So sure, the average household gets to keep $6 in their check every two weeks, but most of it goes back to the state when we buy our dinner.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, to make up for the cut in income tax — which is, in effect, a revenue cut for public education — there are rumors that maybe the Legislature will take money from property taxes to help fund our schools. After the last special session, it’s hard to have faith that our elected officials will give much thought to the fact that property tax rates in rural Utah are notoriously higher than those in urban areas.

With the special session behind us, the problem is not so much that our representatives voted to put a heavier burden on the majority of their constituents, it’s that their constituents likely won’t hold them accountable for it.

An alternative tax plan was on the table, one that would have addressed the problems in state revenue, simplified the code, offered a more substantial tax break and set the state up for the future of our shifting economy. The only problem is that it was written by the wrong party.

Politicians often talk about a problem in a way that sounds like they’re offering a solution. This trick, they imagine, is part of their job. The truth is, they’re doing something any of us can do. It’s not hard to identify a problem in our world.

A legislator’s job is to find a good solution to the problems we identify. That’s why we give them power. Under one-party rule, our representatives have passed legislation that no one seems to like and unfairly impacts the poor.

The solution to that problem is easy. It’s time for us to vote them out.

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