January 28, 2020
Sutherland Institute recognizes the Legislature’s practical and necessary decision to repeal the December tax reform package through passage of HB 185. A balanced budget mandate requires reliable revenue numbers, and the budget limbo created by the referendum on tax reform would have hovered until November. This would have made sound budgeting impossible, with negative consequences for important line items such as public schools, transportation, higher education, low-income services, air quality, etc. The very principle of fiscal responsibility made the repeal a necessary response.
From the perspective of restoring public confidence in the legislative process, repeal may be a good outcome. The signature-gathering effort was a dramatic signal that a significant portion of the voting public does not have confidence that December’s tax reform bill is the tax cut that it was reported to be. This is evidenced in things like parties being unable to agree on even the basic facts about the problems tax reform was intended to address, let alone consensus around solutions. In such an environment, the best path toward rebuilding public confidence in legislating is a long-term, transparent, in-depth study of the facts, including an honest look at the current tax system, past attempts at tax reform, and the overall principles of sound tax policy. The waiting period created by the referendum would not have served those ends and would have likely exacerbated the problem of public confidence by creating an environment conducive to greater misunderstanding. The prudent policy decision, therefore, was to repeal tax reform.
The problems in the current tax system remain unaddressed. The best evidence available suggests that the current system cannot adequately support programs and services critical to supporting strong families, a healthy economy and thriving communities, not to mention well-maintained highways, healthcare services for low-income Utahns, improvements in air quality, and public safety through law enforcement. Finding solutions to these problems will be politically thorny for the Legislature – and a significant responsibility of a newly elected governor – but the work will be necessary for Utah to remain a state of economic prosperity and a desirable place to live, work and raise a family. Solutions will require incremental focus, political leadership grounded in prudence, sound economic principles, and statesmanship motivated by the common good.
Sutherland remains committed – post-repeal – to a thorough examination of the facts and principles pertinent to tax reform in Utah. We will continue to research ideas that work, inform the public about needs and timelines, and strive to ensure the well-being of Utahns statewide.
Even though the Supreme Court does not resolve a large proportion of the cases that are presented to it, the decisions it does issue reverberate to affect many other disputes through the principle of precedent. Its decisions on a handful of cases can, over time, expand and contract the rights of the entire nation.
For many voters, 2020 may have been their first experience with voting by mail. However, VBM in both the United States and Utah specifically is not new. In America, VBM has a history that spans centuries.
The judiciary branch is designed as a responsive, not proactive, branch of government. The court can’t tell Congress not to pass an unconstitutional law or tell the president not to issue a legally invalid order. It must wait until after those actions take effect and someone challenges them.