Lawmakers quickly repeal tax overhaul bill as referendum effort officially qualified for the ballot

Utah Capitol 25

With little debate, the House and Senate repealed the huge tax reform package members passed just over five weeks ago. The repeal effort passed with just one vote against in both the House and Senate. 

The near-unanimous repeal vote came on the same day that the referendum effort to overturn the tax reform officially qualified for the November ballot.

House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, co-chair of last year’s Task Reform Task Force, spoke briefly before the repeal passed, 70-1, with only Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, voting “no” — meaning he was against repeal.

Gibson said he personally has learned a great deal about tax reform and tax fairness during last year’s lengthy, public debate and passage. 

In the House, not even the Democrats, who opposed the tax reform, spoke. 

There was no “I told you so,” just a quick explanation by Gibson and then the vote.

Gibson said: “I move we repeal the second-largest tax cut in the state history.”

And then they did.

On the Senate side, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, delivered a lengthy defense of the tax reform process which ate up most of the summer and fall before the passage of the bill during the December special session.

“Utahns became very concerned about how we did it. There was a lot of uproar. I hoped people would be more supportive. The best thing to do was to say stop,” he said, noting that the repeal doesn’t undo all of the work that went into the original tax package.

“This will give all of us this summer the chance to ask a simple question, ‘What will you do?’” continued Hillyard. “ It’s easy to criticize, but I assure you we face a crisis. I’ve heard people say it’s made up. But, our fiscal analyst convinced me we have a problem with our sales tax.”

Former Rep. Fred Cox, who headed up the referendum effort to overturn the tax reform was pleased by the swift repeal but said his group would carefully watch the next moves from lawmakers.

“We do not want this bill to come back in pieces this session or next, said Cox who boasted of collecting 170,000 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. “If they do, that means they weren’t listening.”

Sen. Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem, said opponents should not take the near-unanimous vote as an admission by lawmakers that they were wrong.

“The vote showed unanimous support for the political process,” said Hemmert. “This is part of the legislative process, and we recognized that we should probably put this bill on hold.”

The repeal passed both the Senate and House with a ⅔ majority, meaning it will go into effect immediately when Gov. Gary Herbert signs it.