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Rep. John Curtis confident Utahns will like new tax bill — eventually

Congressman-elect John Curtis talks about taking over the 3rd District House seat vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz in the Deseret News and KSL newsroom in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.
FILE - The newest member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. John Curtis, said he expects Utahns will like the just-passed Republican tax bill even though it may take some time for them to come around.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The newest member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. John Curtis, said he expects Utahns will like the just-passed Republican tax bill even though it may take some time for them to come around.

"I believe, or I wouldn't have voted for it, that it will be received well, that it's the right thing for the state and it is the right thing for the country," Curtis told members of the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Wednesday.

But the 3rd District representative, sworn into office last month after winning a special election to fill the remaining year of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz's term, acknowledged the tax overhaul could be a tough sell to some.

The tax cuts pushed by President Donald Trump and passed without Democratic support have not been popular nationally, with only a quarter of Americans calling the plan a good idea in a December NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Curtis said opponents had the "easy talking points of, it's a tax cut for the rich. We have the very difficult part of explaining" how taxpayers will actually be affected by the reductions in rates and changes to the code.

"I believe it won't be until people start sitting down and seeing the impact in their lives and in their own individual situations — it will be at that point at which they start grasping how good this is for everybody, not just for the rich," he said.

The former Provo mayor used his son-in-law as an example of someone who expects to benefit from the bill's different components, including those that apply to the family's small decorating business.

"I think for the young aspiring couple with three kids, this is a good thing," he said, calling the increased child tax credit especially important in a state known for large families.

Still, Curtis said, there will be some Utahns who won't see a boost from the bill.

"You can't do major tax reform and have it be perfect for everybody. That's part of the messy part of the legislation. I do believe that overall it's a good bill and overall it's good for Utahns. That it will be flat for some is possible," he said.

There are more questions than answers about how the tax bill will affect Utahns, at least for now.

Salt Lake City CPA Brad Poll said the reaction from clients to the bill has "been mixed. It really has. I think it will benefit a lot of people. There's just a lot of unknowns."

The accountant said every taxpayer's situation is different.

"Nobody really quite understands how it's going to affect them personally," Poll said. "For the most part, I think there will be some pretty substantial tax savings for some people. Others may not see much change at all or even it may be to their detriment."

Curtis said as a "new guy" in Congress, he made a point to read all of the more than 400 pages of the bill. The first House vote on it came just three days after his Nov. 13 swearing in and the final bill was signed into law by Trump just before Christmas.

He said what he likes about the bill are the elimination of some loopholes as well as the reduction in corporate tax rates. As a former owner of a target shooting range manufacturer in Provo, Curtis said the break will help small businesses.

The bill makes the corporate tax breaks permanent, while the individual tax changes expire in a decade — something Curtis said he agrees "should be frustrating to people. I wish it could have been otherwise."

But he said that should be an "easy fix" if the tax bill has the intended impact of expanding economic growth. The tax bill is estimated to add more than $1.4 trillion to the national deficit over the next 10 years.

"As Republicans, I think we have to either believe what we believe or we don't," he said. "Which is that the money is best spent not by government, but by individuals. And by putting that money back in the economy, it will pay long-term dividends."

Curtis said he would have liked to have seen some Democrats behind the bill.

"If I had a magic wand — and I don't think it's really realistic for me to feel like if I had just been there this thing could have been different — it would have been nice to have some support from both sides of the aisle," he said.

Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he hopes the 2018 Legislature's upcoming tax reform efforts "will avoid the path that Congress has taken of making sure we benefit the wealthiest among us" over everyone else.

State lawmakers will also have to sort out the effects of the federal tax changes, he said, including what to do about an anticipated increase in state income collections, estimated at one time to be as high as $200 million.

"Those are questions that we need to answer. I think our (Legislative) Fiscal Analyst's Office right now is looking hard at how much money is coming back and why," the Democratic leader said. "They'll be busy."

Contributing: Ladd Egan