Bob Bernick’s notebook: A road well traveled

Bernick Mug 01

The 2019 Legislature’s general session is over.

What have we learned?

What do we know?

As in every 45-day general session, there was work that did not get done.

As in every session, work was well completed.

This session is, really, one for the history books.

While no doubt there’s disappointment that the state’s sales tax reform wasn’t finished.

But a lot of work was done on the complicated issue. Borders were established, promises of picking up that task this summer and fall made.

And likely later this year – after a report from a special task force is made – lawmakers will come back into a special session (or the 2020 general session) and overhaul the state’s tax system.

This will be groundbreaking work. Done properly, and there’s no indication now that it won’t be, the state will be set up for tax changes which will fund Utah adequately for generations to come.

Thousands of services, from attorneys fees to massages, from Uber rides to scooter rentals, and tax preparation to plastic surgeries, will pay sales tax.

How broad that sales tax base is extended will determine the exact sales tax rate reduction that will make this wholesale change revenue neutral.

But we’re talking dropping the state rate from 4.85 percent to around 3 percent.

If achieved, this will be a significant tax cut for the low- to middle-income Utahns, who pay more of their income in sales tax than do wealthy citizens.

Those who spend most of their paychecks on clothes or buying a used car will see the sales tax they fork over dropping nearly in half.

While those who spend a lot of money on attorneys fees or plastic surgeons or spa treatments will be paying a bit more in sales tax. But they can afford it and probably won’t even notice it.

Legislators were looking to give about a $200 million tax cut. But after the huge $1.3 billion surpluses in one-time and ongoing tax revenues were downgraded by $200 million – and the sales tax reform bill HB441 was scuttled – tax cuts had to wait.

Hopefully we’ll see at least a $75 million tax cut later this year – more if summer tax revenue estimates come in higher.

We saw, over the last 12 months, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take some public issue stands that were not popular among many Utahns.

Especially the Mormon leaders’ opposing Prop 2, medical marijuana, set people off.

But LDS leaders – with the wise counsel of former House Speaker Marty Stephens, the church’s new main lobbyist – also agreed to a modified medical marijuana law, agreed not to oppose an enhanced hate crimes law, and even agreed to increasing the alcohol limit on retail store sold beer.

You can say church leaders shouldn’t be involved in these issues at all. But at least be thankful that Mormon leaders’ ideas on these subjects are moderating – and allowing the Legislature, 80 percent of whom are faithful members of the LDS Church, to take up these matters is very welcomed.

In the case of hate crimes, the LGBTQ community should realize that without the leaders’ statement that hate crimes should be debated this session, like past years nothing would have been done on this subject in the 2019 session.

We didn’t get some bills or expenditures that would have been helpful, forward thinking.

And we got some that aren’t so.

It looks like a new, anti-abortion bill will land Utah into more expensive Roe v. Wade fights in federal court. I see that as a waste of millions of dollars.

We didn’t get a “red flag” bill that could have saved lives by a judge taking away the guns of suicidal or violent people.

But we also didn’t see an attempt to repeal SB54, so all Utahns won out with the ability of candidates to gather signatures to get on a party primary ballot, and not let the only way to office in Utah come via archconservative or very liberal party delegates.

There are many, many other examples of bills/issues that never passed in previous legislatures, but found a more reasonable group of lawmakers this year who did good work, made groundbreaking decisions.

So, I say congratulations to Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, both new to their top majority GOP leadership, and their majority leadership team members, for pushing hard for tax reform, for avoiding many unnecessary divisive issues, for doing the people’s work over the last 45 days and getting a lot of fine things done.

Now it is on to real tax reform/restructuring over the next nine months of the interim.

After all, the Legislature’s work is never really done.

It’s always let’s move on down the road.

But looking back over the last 45 days, it has been a road well traveled.