Amy Roberts: Utah would be better off legalizing gambling than taxing us to death
I think it was Benjamin Franklin who made the quip about death and taxes being the only two things in life that are certain. The Utah Legislature seems hellbent on doing both in one swift and sweeping motion — taxing us all to death. At least they’re efficient.
Last December, the group of painfully out-of-touch lawmakers approved a tax reform package, which includes a new or increased sales tax on food, gasoline, and services like home repairs and maintenance as well as pet grooming, streaming media, Uber rides, and more.
Lawmakers have promised these new taxes will be returned in form of cuts to income taxes, which is usually code for “tax breaks for the rich.” But what is especially concerning with this plan is that in Utah, income taxes are used to fund education. So if there’s less income tax being collected, it’s logical to assume there will be less money for education. Given Utah ranks last in the country for per student spending as it is, this probably isn’t in the best interest of anyone currently not homeschooling their children. The most interesting part of this tax reform package is what it doesn’t include — cuts to government spending. Except of course, in that roundabout way of cutting spending on education. But here’s the most insane part: The bill increases the per-child exemption from $565 to $2,500. As if Utahans needed more of an incentive to breed.
The state can’t seem to adequately fund education, has zero plans for making the air throughout the valley less toxic, our infrastructure is crumbling, there’s a mass shortage of affordable housing, and a significant increase in homelessness. I would argue this money would be far better spent attempting to solve these issues rather than creating more humans to exacerbate the problems.
Almost as soon as this tax reform package was approved, a referendum campaign was launched by opponents. My deadline for writing this is one day sooner than theirs for turning in the 116,000 signatures required to get the referendum on the November ballot, which would allow the public to vote on the Legislature’s tax overhaul bill. So there’s a chance the above described mess isn’t final yet. And if that’s the case, I hope lawmakers spend the next few months considering proven and viable ways to increase revenue without penalizing people who need to eat in order to survive.
It’s a long shot considering the piously tone-deaf group, but there is recent evidence that legalizing adulthood is actually good for the economy. When Utah finally allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell real 5% beer last fall, beer sales in Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada border towns dropped by roughly 30%. Instead of driving across state lines and bootlegging beer, residents spent their drinking money in Utah. The same economic boost could, would, and should happen when it comes to lottery tickets.
Utah is one of only a few states that hasn’t figured out the ROI from scratch-off cards and the Powerball. The instant-gratification that comes with scratching a ticket would mean lawmakers no longer have to scratch their heads over how to fund education and other critical needs.
According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, last year Americans spent about $85 billion on lottery tickets, with some states adding over $6 billion to their bottom lines. State governments have control over how the revenue is spent, with most allocating funds to education, infrastructure, green space initiatives, elderly assistance, general funds, social programs for the homeless, healthcare, criminal justice, and other government programs.
Considering 43 other states and the District of Columbia enjoy this income-generating side hustle, you have to wonder when Utah lawmakers will do the math. Or perhaps they’re enjoying their own side hustle and pocketing money from lobbyists in Wendover and Evanston. If we ever make being an adult legal in this state, it will destroy the economies of those border towns.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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