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'Back to the drawing board' for tax reform - but this time without food tax hike

legislative session tax reform kutv (6).PNG
File photo of news conference when state leaders announced intent to not pursue tax reform further in the 2019 legislative session. (KUTV)

Utah tax reform is dead now, but may emerge again without the food tax hike that spurred throngs to sign petitions against it.

“I think the sales tax on food is probably something we’ll leave in the rear-view mirror,“ said Brad Wilson, Utah Speaker of the House. “The other issues, I think, are still going to be on the table.“

Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams maintained Thursday that the tax reform plan they helped broker just last month — a plan approved by the legislature and signed by Governor Gary Herbert —would be good for taxpayers; but they acknowledged many people don’t agree.

“What we put forth in December clearly wasn’t resonating with folks out there,“ Wilson said. “So we’re going to go back to the drawing board.“

Lawmakers head into their general session next week, but Adams said the legislature should hold off on tax reform this year.

“You know, we’ve got a gubernatorial race going on,“ he said. “I think we ought to wait until we find out who the governor is.“

“Did the Legislature blow it on tax reform?” 2News asked.

“You know, we keep trying,“ said Adams. “That’s part of the process. I’m not sure we blew it. I’ve heard thousands of different opinions. Some say do one thing, some say do another. We’re going to keep working, and we’re going to get it right.”

The tax reform plan first emerged close to a year ago, in the waning days of the legislature’s last general session, only to be met with a flood of opposition. Initially, much of the push-back came from small business owners who recoiled against proposals to tax, for the first time, a wide array of services.

After a listening tour around the state, Republican legislative leaders pared back service taxes, but moved forward with hiking the state sales tax on food from less than 2% to nearly 5%. They also opted to raise the state gas tax, while cutting state income taxes.

Days after S.B. 2001 passed, a Republican former legislator launched a petition drive to overturn the vote — considered a long shot at the time — but which turned in just this week tens of thousands of now-verified signatures.

As for the GOP candidates for governor, Jon Huntsman and Greg Hughes said they would not seek to raise taxes on food or gas, if elected. Huntsman was governor, and Hughes a state representative, when the food tax was slashed.

Spencer Cox, Aimee Winder Newton and Jeff Burningham said they would never raise food taxes, but would not rule out gas tax hikes.