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Guest opinion: Utah has a generational opportunity to modernize our state’s budget and revenue sources

Skyline of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.
Skyline of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The word is out about Utah. With over a dozen ski resorts, numerous state and national parks, world-renowned events such as the Sundance and Shakespeare festivals, a top-rated international airport, many recognitions for a business-friendly environment, a growing and innovative tech-industry, top-ranked colleges and universities, and a vibrant and bustling downtown, it’s no wonder why Utah’s population is predicted to nearly double within the next 50 years. Utah has something exciting to offer everyone.

We enjoy a high quality of life and the benefits of a strong economy. However, our state’s modern economy has outpaced its current revenue structure creating an imbalance in the state’s revenue sources — income, property, and sales. If the imbalance is not addressed, important funding priorities, such as transportation, water, air quality, education, law enforcement, recreation and health care, will be negatively affected. In the 2019 general legislative session, the Utah Legislature created the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force to further review and address the state’s structural imbalance. The task force will study the state government’s revenue systems, solicit public feedback and develop recommendations accordingly.

Effectively addressing Utah’s outdated revenue structure will not be easy. However, the Legislature has created a path that is transparent, encourages public input, and will invariably lead to fair public policy. The task force will host listening town hall meetings across the state providing opportunities for community leaders, business owners, and Utahns to learn about the issue, engage with lawmakers, and be a part of the solution. Additionally, there will be an informational website with an online form allowing the public to freely comment and provide feedback throughout the process. With Utah’s current growth in population and changing demographics, restructuring the revenue system presents a unique challenge: ensure all voices and concerns are represented. Members of the task force and elected leaders are keenly aware of this. We must meet the needs of every Utah citizen and business. Our predecessors exemplified vision and foresight when they implemented a rainy day fund, took a fiscally conservative approach to our budget, and planned for future growth. Like they did, we are now doing things the Utah way — looking forward, pulling together, and being proactive in developing policy that ensures stability and prosperity.

As an attempt to solve our structural imbalance, a bill was introduced during the previous session. As we met with community stakeholders and engaged citizens, we realized we needed more time, more input, and more options. Lawmakers bought the state more time by creating a task force and switching $300 million in ongoing funds to one-time funds to enable us to have one more year to address and solve this problem. But we can’t kick the can down the road.

This task force is starting from a blank slate. All options are on the table and we are not currently committed to any ideas. As we conduct this statewide listening tour, we ask for your input. Please get involved. We urge you to attend the listening tour town halls, share perspectives and comments, and work together as Utah citizens to own and collectively help solve this problem. What we learn will help us begin to shape policies based on the unique concerns of each county, city, town, neighborhood, family, and individual that offers their voice during this collaborative decision-making process.

As we work together, we can ensure Utah remains among the best places in the world to live, work, learn and recreate.