Welcome to Utah, where, in 2015, elected leaders haven’t seen a single tax increase they didn’t like. First, the Legislature voted to raise property taxes by $75 million. Then, they raised the gas tax by .05 cents per gallon. Now, county officials have added a hike in the sales tax in 17 counties.
This latest tax increase is an effort by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and its member companies to “improve transportation infrastructure” in Utah. There are two things that are almost certain to improve if the sales tax increase becomes law: the take home pay of top executives at the UTA and tax burdens on everyday Utahns like you and me.
The “local option sales tax,” or so they call it, will generate roughly $100 million in new tax revenue. Nearly $40 million of which will go directly to the Utah Transit Authority.
Conveniently this tax increase happens just months after the UTA has realized the errors of their ways and put an end to their obscene taxpayer-funded bonuses, international trips, and outlandish executive pay.
But that’s not even the end of it. The Chamber’s well-polished, poll-tested, public issues committee they formed to market this tax increase conveniently leaves out any mention of UTA in its messaging. They know too well that UTA has squandered public trust much like they squandered tax dollars on a $10 million parking lot that was never built.
The donor list for their political interest group reads like a “who’s who” of eager transportation companies waiting for their chance at the $100 million taxpayer-funded honey pot. All the while, taxpayers who oppose this tax hike are left to talk with their neighbors, plea with their elected officials and hope that people are going to show up to the polls in an off election year.
The proposed sales tax is an additional quarter percent – or roughly $50 annually per person, which may not sound like a lot at first glance, but for the poor and the families barely struggling to get by, such a tax increase would really add up.
It’s a regressive tax, which means those who make less, will pay more. Sales taxes impact those most sensitive to income changes, many of which are on a fixed income and can’t afford such sudden changes in their cost of living.
Before Utahns vote to increase taxes that would impact the most needy among us, it is critical that we reach out to our neighbors and inform them of what is happening. If we don’t, the only communication they will receive about this tax is a slick, well-funded campaign from a conflicted special interest group. What’s more, if this type of campaign is successful, the future of Utah is at risk.
When a group of interested companies are able to band together, get a tax increase on the ballot, invest a significant amount of money (though much less than they stand to make), and run roughshod over voters, our State is in trouble.
This practice reminds me of a quote from Alexander Fraser Tytler: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” Big businesses have finally discovered it can create fancy marketing campaigns to convince voters to allocate money from the public treasury and dump fat contracts into their laps.
Let’s hope voters can see beyond the glossy mailers and feel good commercials to remember that no matter how its sold, this sales tax increase is still designed to take money away from Utah families.