The four Republican U.S. Senate candidates on the June primary ballot all agreed during a panel discussion Friday that former President Donald Trump’s nearly $4 trillion tax cuts should not be allowed to expire next year.

Appearing together at the Utah Taxpayers Association’s annual “Taxes Now” conference, Congressman John Curtis, former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, businessman Jason Walton and Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs were united in their support for extending the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

Throughout what was billed as a lunch hour forum on the expiration of the tax cut passed by Congress in 2017, the contenders still in the race for the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Mitt Romney after last month’s state Republican Party convention vote, largely remained agreeable even as they attempted to highlight their differences.

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The winners of this year’s congressional and presidential elections are facing what will be a tax increase for most individual taxpayers if the tax cuts set to end in 2025 are not addressed. A Utah family of five that earns $90,000 annually would see their tax bill go up just over $2,300, Utah Taxpayers Association President Rusty Cannon said at the start of the forum.

Extending all of the cuts due to expire, which include lower tax brackets and increases in the standard deduction and child credit for individual taxpayers but not the reduction in the top corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, would add an estimated $4.6 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“These are important things that we wish this election cycle was about. Unfortunately, at least on the presidential side, it’s not actually about that. It’s more about personality. Maybe that will change,” Cannon said. The major party presidential candidates are split on continuing the tax cuts, with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, insisting they “stay expired.”

Biden posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the cuts “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and biggest corporations and exploded the federal debt.” His administration is calling for higher taxes on the wealthy as well as corporations; revenues then would be used to fund tax cuts for workers and families.

Trump not only backs making his 2017 tax package permanent, the Republican has talked about making another round of tax cuts if he wins in November.

Rusty Cannon, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, moderates a discussion with United States Senate candidates John Curtis, Brad Wilson, Jason Walton and Trent Staggs at the Utah Taxpayers Association Annual Taxes Now Conference at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 10, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

During the forum, Curtis said “the elephant in the room” is what he described as an $8 trillion increase in the national deficit under the former president and suggested candidates need to ask themselves if they’re “willing to say no to President Trump when he submits a budget that spends trillions of dollars that we don’t have.”

Saying he voted against legislation that would have boosted the debt despite being personally lobbied by Trump, Curtis added, “If we’re honest as Republicans, we own as much of this as the Democrats. The best we can say is we don’t spend as much as they do. But we own a lot of this. In reality, President Trump owns a lot of this.”

Staggs, who has Trump’s endorsement in the race, said a theme of his campaign is “going against the grain, standing up to the establishment. It’s the establishment that’s got us in these problems.” He said COVID-19 efforts account for “a lot” of the $8 trillion deficit and called Biden’s infrastructure bill “a fig leaf for the green new deal” that will add trillions more to the national debt.

Burdening future generations with that debt, which currently amounts to more than $34 trillion or just under $103,000 per person, is “the height of immorality,” Staggs said.

“We’ve got to be able to turn it around,” the Riverton mayor said, citing the backing he’s received from conservative members of Congress as well as the former president, who he said will “likely win.”

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Wilson talked about the value of his experience managing the state budget and providing “an environment where tax cuts become the norm or at least part of the conversation,” calling those “the kinds of lessons, the practical Utah experience, that we can take to Washington to try to fix things back there.”

The former speaker said he won’t be “an echo chamber for anyone, Republican, Democrat, whatever. Because I know what’s right. I know what we have to do to get our fiscal health back in line.” Wilson said the Senate race will have “big consequences” for Utah, with whoever is elected likely serving two or three terms, but “hopefully, not longer.”

Walton, who said tax collections should add up to “only enough money to fund the legitimate purposes of government,” called the need for a balanced federal budget the main reason for getting in the race. “These are things I think traditional career politicians run from. This is what I’m running to.”

The reason the deficit hasn’t been addressed is “people who have a sense of self-preservation” go along with congressional leadership and what polling tells them voters want in the hopes of being reelected, Walton said. “That’s why I say now more than ever, we need to elect more business people.”