SL Chamber calls for an overhaul of Utah’s tax code

SALT LAKE CITY -- One of Utah's largest business organizations is calling on state lawmakers to dramatically overhaul the tax code.

At a news conference Thursday morning, the Salt Lake Chamber urged the legislature to examine every aspect of the taxes Utahns pay. They focused on local taxes, noting a larger discussion at the federal level in Congress.

Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie (center) speaks at a news conference on tax code modernization with Rocky Mountain Power CEO Cindy Crane (left) and Dell EMC vice-president Vance Checketts (right) on Dec. 14, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"We need to step back and look at the entire tax structure," chamber president Lane Beattie said. "That means a lot of people's tender underbellies are going to be exposed and a lot of businesses are going to say, 'woah, woah, woah, I was in favor of it but now it takes money away from me!'"

Beattie and others argued that the tax code needs modernization to compete in a world where more people are purchasing services instead of goods. Some taxes have not been updated for decades.

"While we have an extremely competitive tax climate in Utah, our state still trails many of our competitors," said Cindy Crane, the CEO of Rocky Mountain Power.

Faced with declining revenues, the Utah State Legislature has been exploring reforms in an effort to broaden out the tax base to pay for government services everyone uses. Lawmakers have said some taxes may go up while others would go down.

"We're all moving from the analog world to this digital world of Instagram and Snapchat and all these other digital sources and services that are really impacting our economy and, as a result, our tax base," said Vance Checketts, vice-president of Dell EMC.

Beattie also said modernizing the tax code must also significantly increase the state's overall education funding.

In his 2019 budget, Governor Gary Herbert called for no tax hikes but spoke in favor of modernization of the tax code. Lawmakers are considering some tax reform bills that include things like property tax equalization, taxing more online purchases and streamed media, and restructuring corporate taxes. The food tax, which is a hot topic, remains a discussion item.

The Salt Lake Chamber, which has a big presence on Utah's Capitol Hill, also took the step to call on lawmakers to scrutinize tax breaks that are handed out -- even to businesses.

"The reality is many of our carve-outs are for special interests that deserve a critical look today," Crane said. "We need to look at those and act now."