But at least one GOP leader – House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo – says she doesn’t anticipate many of them will pass.
Several of them involve public education – automatically locking in money for student growth; revisiting personal and corporate income tax deductions looking for more cash; increasing the tax rate on those making more than $250,000 a year, with a higher increase for those making more than $1 million a year; and on and on.
There is the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce income tax “reform” proposal that could add hundreds of millions of dollars and has several options. You can read those revenue options here.
And outside of education funding there is a proposal by the Utah Mobility Coalition to start indexing the state’s per-gallon gasoline tax starting in 2013.
Historically, if one wants to raise a tax (proponents often say they want to “reform” a tax system) it is done in an odd-numbered year, when the 75 House members don’t face re-election, nor does half of the 29-member Senate.
It’s also good to look at a tax hike in the first two years of a governor’s four-year term.
Such timing makes it less likely that voters will remember, come Election Day, the tax hike or its bite on their pocketbooks.
Even some Republicans are starting to realize that Utah, in last place in per-student funding in the nation and seeing a slow deterioration of public and higher education spending power, is not keeping up with the financial needs of educating our children and young adults.
Chamber officials, and others, are saying that Utah’s fine workforce is in danger of falling behind, and that will harm economic growth and a stable business climate.
Now transportation experts, who gathered together to write Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan, 2011-2040, say the state gasoline tax is woefully inadequate to meet future needs. You can read the plan here.
LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy publisher and partner in the Exoro Group, a political/communication consulting firm, told those attending Thursday’s Utah Taxpayers Association pre-legislative seminar that a modest step toward at least stabilizing the decline in the state’s gasoline tax is to “freeze” the tax’s revenue by tying it to inflation – stabilizing the tax’s buying power.
Webb was in former Gov. Mike Leavitt’s administration when the gasoline tax was last increased, by five cents per gallon to 24.5 cents in 1997.
Luckily for Leavitt and then-legislators, just when that tax hike went into effect in July of that year, gasoline prices dropped in the Utah market by around five cents per gallon.
So car drivers really didn’t feel that tax hike at all.
But since then, with inflation of road construction and maintenance, even though more vehicle miles have increased dramatically, the buying power of the per-gallon gas tax has dropped.
Webb says studies show that by 2040 there will be an $11 billion gap between what is needed to fund and repair roads and what thetransportation reveunes will be bringing in.
“That sounds like a lot of money” missing in Utah’s transportation needs, Webb told the seminar. “But it is doable over 30 years” – assuming state officials at least stop the decline in gas tax buying power by stabilizing it.
Since the 1997 gas tax hike, the buying power has gone from 24.5 cents per gallon sold to 16.8 cents.
Meanwhile, vehicle miles driven (a method of matching road construction and repair) has increased from 30 million miles per year in Utah to 50 million miles today.
By 2040 Utahns will be driving 60 million miles and the current fuel tax to be bringing in only 13.4 cents per gallon because of inflation in road construction and maintenance.
And there’s a double whammy: The Obama administration is demanding that future cars and trucks get more miles per gallon of gasoline while hybrids are increasing mileage and electric cars aren’t paying any gasoline tax at all.
The mobility coalition also wants the Legislature to set up a special fuels tax task force over the coming year.
At least that might be done, as Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, told the seminar he will sponsor that task force bill in the 2013 Legislature.
Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said his group almost always opposes tax hikes and doesn’t like the coalition’s gas tax indexing.
“We don’t have a good solution” to the transportation funding crisis that’s coming, said Van Tassell. Hopefully, the task force can come up with some good ideas, “and this will be a key issue for the Legislature to deal with.”
A new poll commissioned by the Exoro Group and the Utah Center for Public Policy Administration shows Utahns about split on several tax proposals.
The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates in early January, found that 55 percent of registered voters would favor an increase in the 5 percent personal income tax rate if the money went for public education.
Forty-three opposed such a tax hike, Jones found.
Fifty percent said they favor putting the full state sales tax back on unprepared food, if low-income Utahns would get a tax refund; 45 percent opposed putting the sales tax back on food.
Jones found that 45 percent support an increase in the overall sales tax rate; while 54 percent oppose such a tax hike.
And even though the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1997 and inflation has dramatically reduced it’s buying power (as the study above shows), 51 percent of voters oppose a gas tax hike, while 47 percent support such an increase.
My guess is that lawmakers will do little on taxes in the 2013 Legislature.
Maybe a few tweaks here or there, but nothing major.
Of course, this could change later this year when lawmakers have a better idea what Congress and Obama are going to do in cutting federal spending – which could have a real impact on Utah’s balanced budget for next year.
Lockhart noted at the Utah Taxpayers Association seminar that she reads the new poll to say there’s no great desire for any major tax changes.
“When you take in the margin of error (of 4.5 percent), Utahns are split on tax increases.
“I don’t see us raising taxes at all this year. But we will have the discussion,” she said.