Gov. Norm Bangerter told representatives of some of the state's largest companies he isn't ready to settle on their solution to a property tax issue that would result in higher taxes for small businesses.
"What you're talking about is shifting $10 million to $12 million from larger industries to small industries. That gives me a problem," Bangerter said during a meeting Monday with the Coalition of Centrally Assessed Taxpayers.The utility, mining, manufacturing and other industries represented by the coalition pay property taxes based on a value determined by the Utah State Tax Commission instead of local assessors.
The state Supreme Court ruled last summer that one such centrally assessed property, AMAX Corp., should have been given the same 20 percent reduction in value as homeowners and smaller businesses get from local assessors.
Most tax experts agree the ruling means that at least commercially and centrally assessed properties should be treated the same no matter who determines how much they're worth for tax purposes.
Homeowners, who already get an additional 25 percent reduction on taxes owed for their primary residences, could continue to get up to the same percentage trimmed from their bills under a provision of the state constitution.
But so far, nobody agrees on the best way to do that.
Coalition members told the governor they want everybody assessed at 100 percent of the fair-market value of their property. Homeowners, they said, could be given the exemption allowed by the state constitution.
Under their plan, businesses that straddle counties or fall under certain categories such as utilities would continue to be assessed the same way.
Locally assessed businesses, however, would be paying taxes assessed on 100 percent of their property value instead of the 80 percent figure now used to calculate their tax bills.
The jump to 100 percent would increase the tax base and likely mean property tax rates would have to be lowered in most counties to collect the same amount of revenue.
So even though centrally assessed businesses would still be assessed at 100 percent of their value, the lower rate would mean they would pay lower tax bills.
The governor doesn't like that plan.
"You're here as a group telling me you don't want us to get it from you anymore, you want us to get it from somebody else," Bangerter said, labeling their plan a tax shift from smaller businesses to larger companies.
He also didn't like a suggestion by Orrin Colby Jr., vice president of Utah Power & Light Co., that the state not look at raising other taxes to solve the problem.
"I don't think you guys can come in here and tell us we can only look at one solution," Bangerter said. "I don't have the answer. But I have to be honest with you, I can't sign off on taking anything off the table yet."
The governor found little interest among coalition members in his suggestion that they agree not to go after refunds for taxes paid under the current property tax structure.
"The first thing I'd like to have is a truce. Let's let property tax in the current year stand pending a reasonable outcome," Bangerter said, noting a number of lawsuits are pending.