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Utah No. 11 on the tax burden list

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Utahns carry the 11th highest tax burden in the 50 states when compared to personal income, the Utah Taxpayer Association said this week.

Every year the association, using various data, ranks the state nationally. The Utah Tax Commission conducts a similar study of the Western states. For fiscal 1998, the last year full data was available, Utahns paid 14.97 percent of their income in taxes and fees.

This year, the taxpayer association included government fees charged taxpayers, to give a more complete picture. Utahns paid 3.56 percent of their income in various government fees.

Historically, Utah ranks high in tax burden measured by personal income, or the ability to pay the tax. That's because Utah has the highest birth rate in the nation — a lot of children to educate in public schools — and moderate income levels.

Utah still ranks high in the tax burden despite the fact that the Legislature and Gov. Mike Leavitt have given, in total, around $1 billion of tax relief in the 1990s. Those state tax cuts won't be coming again for some time; the state faces revenue shortfalls for the current fiscal year and Leavitt has already ordered state departments to trim 4 percent from their approved budgets.

In its tax study, the association says from 1991 to 1995 Utah's tax burden increased, then dropped a bit in fiscal 1996 and 1997, only to rise again toward the end of the decade.

Utah ranked 13th in heaviest tax burden for fiscal 1998 before federal fees were added in, 11th after the fees were calculated, the association said.

Utah's property tax burden increased slightly, the study shows. But that was for 1998. A number of counties raised their property tax rates in 2001— with the tax bills coming due in November of this year.

Utah has the third highest sales tax rate among Western states. But the sales tax burden has remained fairly constant during the 1990s.

Utah places its sales tax on unprepared food, one of the few states to do that. The so-called food tax is much hated, public opinion polls show. But legislators refused to remove it during the high-tax-revenue growth years of 1995 to 2000. Instead, they lowered the income and property tax rates.

In the last several years a number of food-tax-removal bills have been introduced in the Legislature. All have failed. Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, has pushed a phased-in food-tax-removal bill in recent sessions, but that too has failed to pass both the Senate and House.

Utah's income tax burden increased in the 1990s, the taxpayer association said, because lawmakers refused to adjust the tax for inflation creep. That was corrected in the 2001 Legislature to some extent.

Still, Utah has the third highest individual income tax among the Western states, the taxpayer group said.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com