By Christine Watkins
Many new and controversial bills have come out of rules and made available to read.
A new bill, HB441, a major new tax reform, was heard in committee Friday. We learned about the details in our caucus meeting the day before. This bill would lower the sales tax from 4.7 percent to 3.1 percent. It would also cut the income tax rate from 4.95 percent to 4.75 percent. But, it would broaden the tax base to include many services that do not have to charge tax at the present time. Types of services that would have to start charging tax are construction activities, information and technology, legal work, financial work, cosmetic surgery, private lessons, professional landscaping and haircuts.
The authors of the bill indicate that it is easier to say what is not taxed than what is. A number of sales tax exemptions would be eliminated. Some of those exemptions are electricity to ski resorts for lifts, ski resort machinery, equipment purchased by film companies, aircrafts manufactured in Utah, newspapers, water, tickets to college events and water.
Exceptions are medical services (other than cosmetic surgery), child care and rental properties. This is a whole lot to process and absorb. I have had many constituents email and come to the Capitol to protest such a big change in such a short review time. The sponsor claims the tax change will be revenue neutral but many are suspicious. At this time, I will not support the bill. Having said that, I do know that there needs to be a change in our tax system and I can support a good change as long as we all have a chance to read and understand such a proposal.
We heard in the House Education Committee HB373. This bill would appropriate to the Utah State Board of Education more that $32.1 million ongoing dollars for school support personnel or permit schools to contract with local mental health authorities for students who need clinical services. We passed a bill a few years ago giving money to schools to hire more counselors, but the need far exceeds the money that was allocated. Those qualifying personnel would include school counselors, social workers and school nurses. Our students have so many emotional and mental health needs and having the right professionals available to help the students and teachers is critical.
HB118 is a bill that would allow teachers to give academic incentives to students who take and do well on state achievement tests. Right now, Utah has 5.9 percent of its school age children opting out of taking achievement tests. That number is below the 95 percent minimum required by the federal government and to receive funding, the state had to count the students who opted out as failing. A student cannot be penalized if they don’t do well but if they do well on the tests, they could have any type of academic reward applied. It does not make the test mandatory and parents can still opt to have their children not take the tests. The idea is to encourage more students to take the test and to try to do better. This would allow more accurate scores to look at when reviewing schools. I supported this bill and it is on its way to the governor for further scrutiny and possible signing.
My re-designation of Highway 6 passed with a change. Highway 6 will have three designations, Diamond Dinosaur Byway, Mike Dmitrich Highway and Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Extra money was put into the bill to pay UDOT to make and put up signs for the Mike Dmitrich Highway, so watch this summer for new signs along Highway 6.
I have a bill that would take away the requirement for a front license plate. It squeaked out of the House Transportation Committee. It will now be heard on the floor and should be an interesting debate. Thanks for the calls and emails. Whew, there have been many. Again, thanks for what you do to keep rural Utah great.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 435-650-1969, Facebook: Representative Christine Watkins District 69.