Vickers reports on legislative appropriation meeting, tax reform, education
By Holly Coombs
Sen. Evan Vickers (R-UTAH) attended a Legislative appropriation meeting in tandem with the traditional policy interim meetings in June and reported the update for public knowledge.
“I am the Senate Chairman for Higher Education Appropriations, and also sit on the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee, and both of those meetings happened during the June interim last month,” Vikers said. ”’Efficiency’ is a key word we are mindfully applying at our Higher Education Appropriation meetings this year. We are scrutinizing the base budget in a number of areas, and actively looking for better ways to do things and in a more efficient manner.”
Governor Gary Herbert has asked Vickers to serve on a committee/task force to look at developing our workforce, and more specifically, how to improve our higher education system, and make it more efficient, he said.
“This is not a blue-ribbon type committee where there are 50 or more members and the committee struggles to get something done,” Vickers said. “This particular committee will have only around nine members, and we will be digging into some real possibilities of how to improve our higher education programs, institutions and facilities.”
Another big topic he said the public may be hearing about a lot this year is tax reform. Vickers attended a special meeting in June which reviewed the principles of sound tax policy. I would like to highlight for you those principles:
1. Simple—Taxes should be easy for taxpayers to understand and comply with, and for taxing agencies to administer. Complicated taxation promotes conflict between taxpayers and tax administrators.
2. Stable and Predictable—Tax rates, revenues and administration should provide certainty of financial planning for government, individuals and businesses. The application and administration of tax policy should be predictable and consistent from year to year.
3. Transparent—Tax policies should not allow unnecessary government growth and spending. Sound tax policies should protect taxpayers from automatic or hidden tax increases, and from imposition of improper fees in lieu of taxes.
4. Neutral—Similarly-situated taxpayers should be taxed similarly. Tax policy should not be used to determine winners and losers between and among taxpayers, or unfairly shift tax burdens to/away from one or more classes of taxpayers. The sole purpose of a tax is to raise sufficient revenue to fund state priorities.
5. Competitive—Tax policies should be reviewed and updated to keep Utah competitive without violating the principles of simplicity, stability and neutrality.
6. Tax the Final Product—This simply means that we should tax the business output not the input, or, in other words, only tax a product when it is sold, not the products that go into producing it. Taxes on business inputs should be avoided.
7. Exemptions—Exemptions from tax should be based on clear, broad-based social philosophies or economic stimulation that meets the test of being readily apparent and objectively demonstrable.
8. Contesting of Taxes—The tax system needs to be accessible to the average taxpayer and be balanced and fair with no appearance of bias.
9. Related—In general, any new tax or fee revenue should benefit those who are paying the fee or tax.
10. Revenue Sufficiency—Government has a role to play in a healthy economy. The tax system should enable state government to fund essential services, while limiting the overall tax burden on Utah’s citizens and businesses. Fiscal responsibility and efficient use of existing state revenues is critical.
11. Broad Base and Low Rate—Tax deductions, credits, exemptions and exclusions may be appropriate if they promote economic growth and development. The overriding tax policy mantra should follow “Broaden the base and lower the rate,” which, if used, will allow for fair tax revenue that is spread across a broader base of goods and services.
Recodification of Education Code
Vickers emphasized that education is always one of the big issues the Legislature considers every session.
“That means we see a lot of education bills, and education laws can get confusing and messy,” he said. “The state education code is a collection of regulations, rules, or statutes, and the last time the education code was reviewed and cleaned up by the Utah Legislature, (many years ago), the code went from 400+ pages of code down to about 250 pages of code.”
Recodifying simplifies and cleans up the code, and this year, the Education Interim Committee agreed to not make any major changes to the code with remodifying bills, but rather keep the bills focused on basic clean-up and updating, he said.
“The goal is to pass the bill early in the legislative session, and have all changes from the bill become effective immediately, so any new education bills during the session will work with the new code,” Vickers said.
He said the Transportation Committee continued its discussion of the implementation of the .05 Blood Alcohol Content-BAC law (HB155 from 2017). The committee heard from national representatives of the American Beverage Institute and the National Restaurants Association.
“They raised concerns that the DUI law negatively impacts Utah’s image and could hurt tourism,” Vickers said. “Senator Stuart Adams of Layton, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said the bill discourages drunk driving, which saves lives.”
Expansion of State Parks
“During the most recent legislative session, we passed two bills encouraging consideration for creating a state park at Hole in the Rock and Little Sahara,” he said. “To help with the consideration, a core group has been formed to review successful management models to learn how to adapt it for these sites. This core group involves local input and partners. Once the core groups have collected the pertinent information, they’ll submit it to the state to consider whether they would like to take over the areas as state parks.”
As a part-time legislature, Vickers said, they only have official interim meetings once a month.
“I am honored to represent you – my colleagues, friends, and neighbors – in the Utah State Senate,” he concluded.