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Murray Journal

Murray legislators discuss taxes, education from latest session

Mar 18, 2019 04:11PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray Legislators (sitting left to right) Carol Spackman Moss, Marie Poulson, Mark Wheatley, Karen Kwan and Gene Davis (standing right) pose with members of Murray’s Junior Chamber of Commerce. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Taxes were on the minds of Murray residents as they met with their representatives at the Murray Legislative Update. The Murray Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event on March 2 at the Intermountain Medical Center, at which Sen. Gene Davis and Reps. Carol Spackman Moss, Karen Kwan, Mark Wheatley and Marie Poulson took questions regarding the latest legislative session.

Of great concern was local tax reform and what impact it would have on residents’ taxes. Specifically, HB 441, sponsored by Republican Tim Quinn of Heber, was the target of many attendees’ questions. The bill would have added a sales tax to almost all service transactions, including haircuts, landscaping, some repair services, piano lessons, and a myriad of other services that have historically been tax exempt.

Sponsors of the bill proposed a reduction in sales taxes on goods, cutting them to 3.1 percent, down from 4.7 percent, as well as reducing income tax to 4.75 percent, down from 4.95 percent. The bill also proposed a 1 percent tax on health care premiums and a 0.075 percent real estate transaction tax.

“Don’t tax my haircut,” said Davis. 

Wheatley chimed in that the bill was being fast-tracked without much input, and he felt there was a greater need for policy discussions regarding tax reform.

The bill received opposition from everyone, from the conservative Utah Eagle Forum to Salt Lake City Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Dabakis, and all the Murray legislators expressed concern over the speed at which the bill was being pushed through the legislature—less than two weeks, with very little input from citizens or small businesses. Davis said he believes that the sponsors were hoping that the dust would just settle and be forgotten once the bill passed.

“This is a misery tax,” said Spackman Moss. “I am feeling a lot of gloom today.” 

Kwan pointed out that HB 441 would highly impact Murray City, since directly taxing health care premiums would impact medical services, which make up a huge component of the city’s businesses.

Moderator and Murray City Councilman Jim Brass indicated that Murray’s budget is contingent on the amount of sales tax collected within the city. A sharp cut in sales tax would force Murray and municipalities around the state to raise property taxes to make up for the shortfall.

Spackman Moss also pointed out that income tax directly funds transportation and roads, and reducing that income would send county and city governments scrambling to find funds for those services elsewhere. 

Several days after the chamber of commerce meeting, lawmakers postponed moving HB 441 forward, even though there were enough votes to send it on to the Senate to allow for more input. Governor Gary Herbert has promised that a special session will be called to address the bill in the future.

Education was also on the minds of Murray residents at the Legislative Update meeting, many of them demanding adequate funding for students. Murray resident and Viewmont Elementary teacher Mary Jo Ballou told the legislators about having to dip deeply into her own pockets to buy supplies for her class.

“The amount of money we are given is not sufficient for operating our classrooms,” said Ballou. “We are given $200 in discretionary funds and use them up before the middle of the year.” 

According to the Utah Taxpayer’s Association, as of 2017, Granite School District spends $7,800 per student, while Murray School District spends $7,981 per student. These districts are below the state average of $8,331 per student and well below the national average of $11,762. Utah sits at the very bottom of the list when it comes to education funding: 51st of all the states and the District of Columbia.

The legislators were also asked about the rise in the number of Utah children facing food insecurity. Spackman Moss stated that Utah does not fund the Weighted Pupil Unit (the factor used to determine the “costs of a program on a uniform basis” and to distribute program funding to the local education agencies) enough to help fund agencies who address childhood hunger.