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Controversial Utah tax bill repealed

The Utah Legislature voted to repeal a controversial tax bill on the second day of the Utah Legislative Session after a petition against the bill received 152,000 signatures.

Local activism led to the repeal of last year's controversial tax bill, which would have increased state tax on food. (Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash)

The tax change bill, which passed in Dec. 2019, included a cut in income tax and a rise in food and gas tax. However, Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders announced on Jan. 23 the plan to present a repeal on the bill during the legislative session. On Jan. 28, the vote on the repeal took place and passed nearly unanimously, with 70-1 in the House and 27-0 in the Senate.

Lawmakers projected that the tax change bill would save Utahns about an overall $16 million in taxes. It included a decrease from 4.95% to 4.66% in state income tax, and an increase from 1.75% to 4.85% on food, gasoline, and services. The plan also included sending a one-time, $150 per-person grocery tax credit to some low-income families that could be affected by the raise in grocery tax.

The increase in food tax met the most opposition. Utahns worried about low- and middle-income families and united to start a referendum to get the tax change bill on the November 2020 ballot. Harmons grocery and Associated Food stores joined the referendum effort.

Fred Cox, a former lawmaker who led the referendum campaign, was among those concerned about the negative impact of the tax change on low-income families. He also disagreed with the reduction in income tax, which supports the education fund.

The referendum was possible in the first place because the majority vote in each chamber for the tax change bill was less than two-thirds. In a petition, a referendum must reach at least 116,000 verified signatures to succeed in placing a public vote.

On Jan. 21, referendum volunteers met the referendum deadline, reporting that they had turned in about 152,000 signatures, and had met minimum signature thresholds in at least 18 counties. The signatures then had to be verified by the state elections office, a process that would take a couple of weeks.

As of Jan. 28, right before the vote in favor of the repeal, the state elections office reported an update of at least 117,154 verified signatures.

A repeal of the tax bill means that no such bill will exist to vote on in November.

Utah legislature announced that they will take a break from the tax discussion and resume next year.

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