Week 6 was heavy with big votes on big issues.
Sales Tax on Food
The Legislature has been informed that our current tax structure is woefully prepared for the future. Changes in the economy have meant decreasing tax revenue to pay for increasing demands for services. Much of this is related to shifts in what people purchase and how they purchase it. The shift has left the State unprepared for the future.
Many reforms are on the horizon. We attempted to navigate a three pronged approach to tax reform involving income taxes, single sales factor taxation for manufacturers, and sales taxes. That idea proved too unwieldy to comprehend and parse in the short time we have left on the Hill. So, we decided to move in a more measured direction as we work through reforms a piece at a time into the future.
The proposal on the table is a restoration of the sales tax on food with a reduction in the sales tax on everything. Why? The sales tax funds everything in government outside of education. Unfortunately, the current model which excludes food is highly volatile which makes funding government services unpredictable. By lowering the tax rate for everyone and broadening the tax base by restoring taxes on food, this funding source for services becomes more stable over time.
Poverty advocates have been chiming in for a while about avoiding a restoration of taxes on food. I agree that it would affect our lowest income families the most. So, to mitigate this problem, the tax reform proposal includes a Grocery Tax Credit for retired folks and an Earned Income Tax Credit for working folks. These two credits would offset the food tax for those living in poverty. As proposed, this tax structure would not increase tax revenue to the state but merely even out its ebbs and flows over time. This change will help set the table for looking at other reforms down the road.
I support this proposal in concept. The bill should be released anytime and ready for a public hearing on Monday.
HB442 - Alcohol Amendments - This bill reforms Utah 's alcohol laws significantly. Probably the most headline worthy part of the legislation is that it gives restaurants with bars the option to remove the "Zion Curtain" feature that was mandated in 2009 for new restaurants. It also phases out dining club licenses and makes some other changes related to off-premise retailers. You can listen to what the bill does HERE. The buffer area, "Washington" wall, and curtain options give restaurants plenty of options to choose from. I voted for the bill in committee and on the floor.
Electric Vehicle Tax Credits
HB29 - Electric Vehicle Tax Credits - This bill died on the house board 37-38. The tax credit is set to expire this year and the bill as proposed would have phased out the tax credit over several years. I supported the bill and voted for it on grounds that a tapered phase out was a much better policy.
HB 237 - Firearms and Domestic Violence Modifications - This bill would make Utah a "constitutional carry" state but would also forfeit the firearms of any person convicted of domestic violence. I supported the bill and voted for it. We need more good guys carrying guns.
SB159 - Helmet Requirement Amendments - This bill would have required motorcycle riders between the ages of 18-21 to wear helmets. I was a big NO vote on this bill. I am disappointed the committee felt the need to restrict the liberty of riders to choose for themselves.
Mr. Peterson's Bills
HB23 - Rooftop Solar Tax Credit Phase Out - Passed out of the Senate. Ready for signature from the Governor
HB24 - Student Prosperity Savings Account Tax Credit - On the Senate board waiting for funding approval.
HB64 - Property Tax Relief Amendments - This bill passed the Senate with a unanimous vote and now goes to the Governor for a signature.
HB73 - Child Placement Amendments - This bill passed the House and Senate committe unanimously. It awaits funding prioritization early next week.
HB158 - State House Boundary Amendments - This bill passed the Senate Floor unanimously and goes to the Governor's desk for a signature.
HB270 - Inmate Housing Amendments - This bill will be discussed over the Interim.
This week I was notified by House staff that Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) was coming to Capitol Hill to visit the Governor, Senate, and House. Speaker Hughes asked me to host him in the House during his visit. It was a fun experience.
I met Jon in the hallway before walking him onto the House Floor. It just so happened my girls were waiting to ambush him as he arrived. Someone must have tipped them off.
We hammed it up for the few moments he was with us in the House and had a few laughs. I brought "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts for both of us to wear. He wasn't expecting that but was a good sport nevertheless. Midway through our time on the Floor he leans over to me and says: "Now wait, is this whole thing for a photo op, or for your amusement?" I responded with a smile: "Both." Shortly after that, his handlers arrived and whisked him away to the Governor's office.
Nobody had informed me why Jon was visiting us on the Hill. I thought it was a fun publicity stunt to promote his new movie. However, I discovered later that Jon was visiting the Capitol to advocate for Motion Picture Tax Incentives. Hilariously, I ran a bill (that failed) to end those same tax credits last year. Haha! When worlds collide.
NOTE: Jon, if you are reading this, I forgive you. We can still be friends.
The dramatic conclusion to this year's session is upon us. Look for a post-mortem of the week's events after the smoke clears.