FILE – Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, speaks during an interview outside the Senate floor Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Salt Lake City. There were no proposed fixes to the state’s tax structure discussed during the first meeting Thursday of a new legislative task force formed after lawmakers backed away last session from imposing sales taxes on services. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)
LOGAN – Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, knew when he accepted the assignment to co-chair a tax reform task force “it was going to be a heavy lift.”
After working on tax reform in the 2019 Utah Legislative session, spending time at more than a dozen town hall meetings all over the state last summer to educate residents on the need for tax reform, and finally getting a bill passed in a special session in December, Hillyard is headed back to the drawing board.
Early Thursday morning, Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams announced the bill, SB2001, would be repealed when the legislature convenes on Monday, January 27.
The announcement came two days after opponents of the bill finished collecting tens of thousands of signatures to challenge it.
“When I heard the referendum had enough signatures, my immediate reaction was – I really feel sorry for the next governor,” Hillyard said. “Gov. Herbert knew exactly the problem. I’m really disappointed that not one of the governor candidates, that I know of, came to me or my committee to say what are you doing and why.”
Explaining what legislators were doing and why it did resonate with some residents on the “extreme right and the extreme left,” according to Hillyard, who said a number of groups around the state were on board with the tax reform bill. However, he said they didn’t anticipate the “misinformation” that was generated on social media.
Hillyard said he would often get phone calls from constituents complaining about certain aspects of the bill that were completely inaccurate. He said he spent a lot of time clearing up misconceptions.
“The bill was not exactly the way I like it either,” he conceded, “but you have to make compromises.”
SB2001 lowered the state income tax from 4.95% to 4.66% and offered tax breaks for low- to moderate-income residents. The package also added the sales tax to some service-based businesses and increased the sales tax on gas and unprepared food.
“I think when people understand the problem, they appreciated the fact that we’re trying to get it [tax reform] solved,” he said.
“We will take time to reset and address this issue in the future in a way that allows all Utahns to fully understand the challenge we face, engage in the debate over the best solutions and, ultimately, enact policy that best positions Utah for decades to come,” according to a statement from Gov. Herbert.
Since the announcement, Hillyard said he has been on the phone with the Governor’s office and leadership to “sort out what to do next.”
“We’re not going to go back to square one,” he said. “We have a lot of information and a lot of different options available. We need to find solutions.”