Legislators target December special session to pass tax reform package

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Utah legislative leaders are looking toward an early December special session to take up broad tax system reform sources tell UtahPolicy.com.

That assumes the Legislature’s Tax Reform Task Force can get a majority vote on bills by the end of its Nov. 21 final meeting. And that will require tentative approval by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, as well.

The task force, after five hours of hearings, voted to draft several bills which are, in essence, the task force chairmen’s proposal, which UtahPolicy.com first reported on last Thursday night.

You may recall that the Legislature a year ago — on Dec. 4 — met in a special session to make changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.

So lawmakers could be back again in an early December special session, taking care of business the majority Republicans don’t want to take up in a general session just a month later.

In a five-hour meeting on Tuesday night, the task force debated six different reform proposals submitted by various members. You can read them all here.

Then, after three-and-a-half hours started taking public comments from around 30 people — which by and large centered around complaints over the specific extensions of services to be taxed, and sales exemptions taken away, by the recommendations of the two task force chairmen: House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

Several citizens also asked that the current state sales tax exemption on grocery food not be re-imposed, as some of the Republican reform plans call for.

UtahPolicy.com first reported last week the chairmen’s proposal, updated a bit here Tuesday night.

Some of the political considerations that still must be made within the task force:

— Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, put forward an alternative plan that would give a much larger tax cut than what the chairmen are proposing. You can see Fillmore’s ideas here.

Fillmore wants a tax cut of $420 million. The Gibson-Hillyard plan would give a $75 million tax cut.

Both plans call for reductions in the income tax rate, but Fillmore would lower the current 4.95 percent rate further than the chairmen’s.

— GOP task force members seemed interested in Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne’s idea of some law that would require public education’s annual budgets would be guaranteed inflation and growth in the number of children to be in K-12 schools. You can read her plan here.

Her idea is to have a statute that made such restrictions on lawmakers — which could only be ignored by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate — in return for the constitutional earmark change.

Hillyard didn’t want to get into much debate over his and Gibson’s proposal — supported by other Republicans on the task force — that a constitutional amendment be passed by the Legislature that would take away the current earmark that corporate and personal income taxes only go to higher and public education. Voters would have to approve the change in the 2020 general election.

Hillyard said discussions with pro-education groups, like the Utah Education Association, the primary teachers’ union, are ongoing.

As reported previously by UtahPolicy.com, the chairmen’s proposal already has adopted Mayne’s idea of removing state income tax from Social Security income up to a certain level.

Over the next four weeks, Republicans on the task force (with, perhaps, some consultation with Democrats) will hammer out the proposed draft bills.

Hillyard would like those bills put forward at an early November task force meeting, so members have something more specific to adopt or amend.

In any case, it should be remembered that a task force is not an interim committee.

Interim committee formal action must pass, by a majority, the House members on the committee and the senators on the committee.

But this task force will move forward with a majority vote from all the House and Senate members, combined. Thus, it may be (although not likely) that all House GOP members and two Republican senators could carry the day, even if some of the Republican senators — who were somewhat balking Tuesday night in their comments — don’t finally go along.

In any case, the final tax reform must be approved by the House and Senate GOP caucuses and Herbert before the bills go before a special session for final adoption.