Conservative ideas help balance conflicting interests in tax policy

One of the benefits for free society – for families, individuals, businesses, and others – that conservative principles and thinking provides is the possibility for balancing realities and principles that may seem to be in conflict, resembling the balancing act that any person must do in life in order to find lasting human happiness. Rather than imagining up idealistic, and often simplistic, concepts and trying to force the world to fit into the box we have created for it (e.g., the “individual liberty” of libertarians and the “equality” of liberals), the conservative perspective seeks to ground its thinking in the sometimes complex and conflicting realities of life, using prudence as its ultimate guide in crafting public policy based on these realities.

A string of recent reports on taxes provide a good case study in what this looks like, and why it matters.

Two weeks ago, the Tax Foundation – a national think tank that publishes basic information about the structure of federal, state, and local tax systems in the United States – published a report on state business taxes that found Utah had the 10th best business tax climate in the country. Read more

Why Orem residents are right to fight UTOPIA tax sneakiness

Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson sums up perfectly why Orem residents are pushing back against new taxes to pay for UTOPIA.

More than 5,000 Orem residents signed a petition to force a property-tax referendum in November 2013. That means the tax increase will be frozen until after the referendum. City officials are sweating bullets.

What’s the big deal about a few cents a day, they wonder?

That sort of thinking is the problem — and the genius of the tax system.

Don’t you see what’s happening here? Taxes are raised incrementally, so nobody notices. A little this year, a little next year, a little the year after that. A little more for the county, a little more for the city, a little more for the state, a little more for the feds. Everybody’s got their hands out asking for just a little, so nobody gets upset, and look where it’s left us after decades of asking. In 2009, a median-income American family of two parents and three children paid 25.3 percent of its income to federal, state and local government. One-fourth of its income.

It began with a few cents. And a few more cents. And a few more cents.

To read the rest of Robinson’s column, click here.

Response to an angry UTOPIA

After much citizen input from a historically attended Orem City Council meeting on the evening of Aug. 14 (and into the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 15) to decide the fate of a proposed 50 percent increase in property taxes, largely to pay for the debt on the UTOPIA fiber-optic project, the City Council settled on a 25 percent property tax increase. City Councilman Hans Andersen, who opposed any increase, initiated a referendum on the matter and is collecting signatures to put the tax increase on the ballot.

For Sutherland Institute’s efforts – we made thousands of robo-calls to the residents of Orem notifying them of the proposal and meeting time – UTOPIA took to its official blog site to chastise us for our characterization of the situation and also to challenge us on our core governing principles as they relate to UTOPIA.

I thought I’d take a minute to respond to UTOPIA. Read more

Positive signs for Orem taxpayers after 8-hour tax hearing

After an eight-hour Truth in Taxation Hearing, the Orem City Council voted 4-3 at 1:45 this morning to approve a 25 percent property tax increase for the Orem portion of the property tax bill, instead of the proposed 50 percent increase. That will raise $1.7 million and the city will forego city employee pay raises and other purchases to cover the remainder of the $3.3 million city budget shortfall, $2.8 million of which is due to a UTOPIA bond payment. 

But Deputy City Recorder Rachelle Conner said she personally believes Orem residents will file a petition to make the tax increase a referendum item to be voted on by Orem residents in November of 2013. If the petition gets the necessary signatures and is validated, the tax increase will be put on hold until the vote, leading Conner to state that the city will have to make $3.3 million in cuts to city services to balance the city budget.

Read more

State tax revenue update shows a “marginally” improving economy and outlook

The latest tax revenue estimates reported to the Legislature’s Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee today showed that general and education fund revenues (mostly sales & use tax and personal/corporate income taxes, respectively) for fiscal year 2011 came in $80 million higher than originally projected. Additionally, transportation fund revenues (mostly gas taxes and automobile-related fees) are estimated to be $10 million lower than originally projected. These are still preliminary estimates, so the final numbers may yet change, but they indicate an economic environment that is improving, although slowly.

One legislator summarized what these figures mean for Utah’s economy by saying that property values and unemployment in the state are improving “marginally.” There was agreement with the sentiment that Utah’s economy is improving, but only slowly.

Video: Tax Freedom Day in Utah

In 2012, Utahns had to work 107 days to earn enough to pay all their federal, state and local taxes for the year. If all those earnings had gone straight to taxes, then beginning today, Utahns would get to keep the money they earn to spend on the needs of their families.

Watch this video report to learn more about Tax Freedom Day:


Here’s the script of the video:  Read more

$21 Million for Rec Center? Springville Voters to Decide


Springville residents will soon vote on whether to approve a $21 million tax-funded bond to build a public recreation center. What impact would this bond and rec center have on Springville taxpayers, businesses and families? Watch this video report to find out:


Here’s the script for the video: Read more

Don’t chop tax breaks for charitable contributions


Should government continue to give people tax breaks for donating to charities? Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, thinks so.

In response to more than a dozen proposals in Congress to reduce or eliminate charitable deductions, Elder Oaks testified yesterday before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that “[t]he charitable deduction is vital to the private sector that is unique to America.” After making strong arguments to support this statement, Elder Oaks concluded with the following: Read more

Next taxpayer-subsidized hotel: Salt Lake City?


The hotel industry has been attracting many cities in Utah lately. West Valley City has already decided to loan $30 million to a private developer to build a hotel; Holladay wants Salt Lake County to loan it $450,000 to prepare a site for a hotel; and now Salt Lake County is considering subsidizing a mammoth convention center hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

Is getting into the hotel business a proper role of government? We interviewed Derrick Smith, a concerned citizen; Scott Beck, CEO of Visit Salt Lake; and Richard Snelgrove, Salt Lake County Council member, to find out what they think. Watch this video report:

Read more

Parents as a supply of ‘revenue enhancements’


The newspapers are reporting that a state senator is raising (again) the idea that what Utah schools need is more money and that this money should come from increasing taxes on parenting. Specifically, the “revenue enhancement” (“a politically correct term for raising taxes,” as an online dictionary explains) would come “by ending state income tax exemptions for dependents.” The rationale is explained by Senator Pat Jones: “We have to invest in our neighborhood schools, and I believe this is the way to do it.”

There is certainly common ground here. Public schools should be true neighborhood schools, though not just in funding but also in local control. Society also has an interest in the education of children. However, this particular proposal and the comments made in support of it disclose some subtle but important (and deeply problematic) ways of understanding parents, children and education. Read more