Big changes proposed to Utah’s tax structure

SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers are proposing some big changes to Utah's tax structure to deal with a loss in revenues.

Senate Republican leaders confirmed on Friday they are looking at a bill that spreads out a lot of the state's existing tax structure, raising and lowering some of the taxes that you pay.

Lawmakers are grappling with more needs to be funded, but a decline in revenue.

"We do not have the dollars to cover anywhere near the requests we have," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who oversees the budget on the Senate side of the Utah State Legislature.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said lawmakers are proposing restructuring taxes in an effort to boost revenues.

"Broadening what is being taxed, then lowering the rate we compensate it actually spurs more revenue in the long run," he said.

As FOX 13 reported last week, lawmakers are contemplating raising the state food tax. But Sen. Niederhauser said sales taxes would go down to offset the hike in the food tax.

"Then on the income tax, we’re as passionate or maybe more passionate about the income tax system making it flatter," he said.

That means the taxes removed from your paycheck may go down. Sen. Niederhauser said the gas tax would rise and fall with inflation.

"There would be an inflationary increase in the gas tax without the legislature having to act. It would automatically happen," he said.

The tax changes are being proposed to offset a decline in sales tax dollars. Sen. Stevenson announced on the Senate floor that revenues for fiscal year 2018 were not as bad as feared, but still not as good as they had hoped.

The state cut a deal with Amazon to have the online sales behemoth collect Utah sales tax. So far, Sen. Stevenson said, it has collected $13 million in fiscal year 2018. (The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Friday requiring other online retailers to start collecting sales tax.)

Sen. Niederhauser also acknowledged the tax issue is being spurred by the "Our Schools Now" ballot initiative that would have voters decide whether to raise the income tax to pay for education needs.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he wanted lawmakers to look at the tax cuts being handed out, to see if those needed to be reigned in.

"It’s my understanding there’s close to $700 million right now being requested in further tax gifts to different organizations," he said. "That only takes money out of the pocket."

Republican legislators have promised to study the tax cuts and perks over the interim session. Their tax structure bill could be made public as soon as next week.