Candidates opposing tax reform lack courage

LaVarr Webb

I am disappointed in the Republican gubernatorial candidates who are joining the fringe groups attempting to repeal the Legislature’s tax reform package.

Aimee Winder Newton, Jon Huntsman, and Jeff Burningham are pandering to the baser instincts of voters. They are not looking at what’s good for the state, but what they think is good for their election prospects. They should know better.

Spencer Cox isn’t much better. He opposed the tax reform legislation (in disagreement with his boss, Gov. Gary Herbert), but didn’t sign on to the repeal effort because his office supervises elections.

I’m sure they are secretly hoping the repeal referendum will fail. Because if it wins, the next governor is going to have a very big structural tax problem. And I wouldn’t blame legislative leaders if they said, “You helped kill tax reform. You fix it.”

The truth is, Gov. Herbert and the Legislature (at least those lawmakers who voted for the reform legislation) have done Utah’s next governor a very big favor. The tax package helps solve long-term structural problems, allowing the next governor to inherit a modernized tax system that will serve the state well into the future. Certainly, additional tweaks will be needed, but the tax package provides a solid foundation on which to build.

Not to mention, the legislation provides a nice tax cut to most Utahns, especially low-income people and families with children.

But it’s easy to demagogue the tax package by focusing on tax increases that balance the system, while not mentioning that those increases are more than offset by large tax cuts. Instead of taking a principled position, the candidates are responding to polls. 

I would expect liberal Democrats and far-right people to oppose the tax package and support repeal. They are outside the mainstream of Utah politics and love to complain about nearly everything. But I am disappointed that gubernatorial candidates who no doubt consider themselves mainstream Republicans are supporting the fringes.

I’m sure a majority of state legislators, who voted for tax reform, are also disappointed in the gubernatorial candidates. And losing legislative support isn’t a smart way to start a campaign for governor.

If they oppose the new tax laws, what is their solution? They have offered nothing substantive except to say tax reform needs more study and more public input. That’s ridiculous. If that’s the sort of governor they will be, they certainly will not make big plans or do hard things. They will put their finger to the wind. Instead of leading public sentiment, they will follow it.

I had hoped to support a candidate who has a big vision, who can take the state to the next level, who is courageous enough to do the right thing, despite opposition. I’m not seeing any of that in the announced candidates.

Gov. Herbert is sometimes criticized for being more of a manager than a visionary. But by proposing and promoting substantive tax reform, Herbert has done more to take the state to the next level than anything I’m hearing from any of the people who want to replace him.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect Spencer Cox’s opposition to the tax reform bill that was passed by the Utah Legislature. He was omitted in an earlier version.