The Taxation Shell Game
There's been a lot of interest over Gov. Huntsman's proposed tax "reform" plan. Most of the media is smart enough to call it what it is: a tax cut. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that it's an election-year stunt to draw more votes. Me? I call it a big shell game of shifting the costs of taxation around until nobody knows what's what anymore.
I like it when tax cuts come down the pike. I like having my money back, and I figure I'll usually spend it more wisely than an elected official. Our state, however, is in a bit of a pickle. You see, those record revenues are coming in at a time when Utah is experiencing spectacular growth. Like most states, there is never enough money being stashed away to plan for the infrastructure necessary to support all of these people coming in. Want to see this in action? Take a visit to Southern California to witness their nightmarish patchwork of road systems. Utah County has already been on the fast-track to that with little to no regional planning. Instead, each of the little towns gets drunk on the money and whoop, guess we spent it all on a fancy rec center. Too bad that Main Street is too crowded to get to it.
We have some sense, though. Utah County will be voting on an increase to start their leg of the commuter rail line, and Salt Lake County will be voting on a $900M property tax hike for four new TRAX lines. These counties are having to do that the Legislature apparently doesn't have the gumption to do: known what needs to be done and do it. After all of that pressure, the Legislature might be meeting for yet another special session to change the property tax increase into a sales tax increase.
Personally, I don't see how that changes much of anything. Tax is tax is tax. Everyone will end up paying it in some form or another over time, regardless of how many ninnies are claiming that renters are unaffected by property tax hikes. What's galling, however, is to complicate the state income tax system with a dual-track system that gives away $70M that could, say, start buying the land for the Mountain View Corridor project. Just by meeting to acknowledge that action costs less than inaction is a quiet acknowledgement that the piper will be paid for all of the growth. With construction and land prices hitting meteroric growth, it will be cheaper to pony up for a bond now than to try scaping pennies for it later. Utah isn't the only place affected, nationally or internationally, by rising costs.
Our Legislature and our governor need to stop playing election-year tricks and start spending smart. The sooner they come to the realization that a dollar spent today saves us five dollars tomorrow, the better off the state coffers (and our commutes) will be.