SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Democrats are holding their own public meetings on tax reform rather than wait for a Republican-controlled task force created by the 2019 Legislature to get underway.
"We were disappointed with how the process went during the session. This is a critically important issue," House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Thursday. "We want to do something that's fair and transparent."
Democrats were largely left out of the discussions about addressing the state's lagging sales tax revenues that resulted in a House bill that would have added taxes to a wide variety of services while reducing sales and income tax rates.
But the bill generated plenty of opposition amid extensive revisions. Because it didn't surface until late in the session, Republican legislative leaders decided to scrap it in favor of forming a task force to come up with new legislation.
The task force is expected to be up and running by the mid-May interim meetings, but members have yet to be named. There will be just one House Democrat and one Senate Democrat among the 10 voting members.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said in a statement the "complex issue" will be studied by the task force over the summer.
"They will be focused on developing real solutions that will fix our budget process long into the future making it sustainable, flexible, sufficient and fair. We look forward to the recommendations the task force comes up with," Wilson said.
The speaker also took a swipe at his Democratic counterpart.
"Even though we discussed this issue many times with the House minority caucus, we have not yet seen any constructive suggestions from the minority leader," Wilson said.
He said he hopes "these town hall meetings mean they are committed to solutions not partisanship.”
King said the evening town hall meetings that start May 1 at the state Capitol and continue through May at other locations along the Wasatch Front are not intended to be partisan. He said GOP leaders have been invited to attend.
"There will not be a slant. There's going to be information presented to the public about what options exist," King said, beyond broadening the sales tax base to include services ranging from haircuts to legal advice.
Among the possible alternatives expected to be talked about are changes to income and property taxes, as well as a carbon tax intended to deal with environmental concerns, the minority leader said.
There were too many "decisions made behind closed doors," about last session's tax bill, often during closed Republican caucus meetings, King said, blaming the GOP's supermajorities in the House and Senate.
Democrats hold 16 of the 75 House seats and six of the 29 Senate seats.
King said House Democrats "want to make sure that Utahns feel that, we hear you. We're with you in terms of feeling frustrated that the Legislature plows ahead without getting input from the public."
The public input at the town hall meetings will be shared with the task force, King said.
"Let's get as much information as we can," he said. "I don't see a downside to getting more rather than less information."
Senate Democrats are not involved in the town hall meetings.
"Obviously, we support the House Democrats in their reaching out to the community," said Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. "We celebrate any outreach to the public."
Senate Democrats were more involved in tax reform discussions, she said.
"We were talking all the time," Mayne said. "There are 29 of us and we're elected every four years. There's a lot of camaraderie there. I appreciate leadership reaching out to us."
She said Democratic senators are welcome to participate in the town hall meetings.
All of the meetings are scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The first town hall will be held May 1, in Room 210 of the Senate Building at the Capitol complex, followed by a meeting May 16 in the West Valley City Hall multipurpose room.
Town halls are also scheduled on May 21, in auditorium A of the Weber County Main Library in Ogden; on May 22, in the Bullock Room of the Provo City Library at Academy Square; and on May 23 in the Sandy City Hall multipurpose room.
A date is pending for a town hall planned at the Holladay City Hall.