If you’re like me, it might mean not thinking through consequences — like buying a car without considering how much it will cost in insurance or how much interest you might pay on a loan.
If you’re a politician, it might mean getting a tax cut in front of the public as quickly as possible, figuring that the consequences won’t be as noticeable as all the good vibes.
You decide whether that’s what is happening.
Yet, following a lengthy and sometimes dramatic 90-minute-plus public hearing this week at the state Capitol (three people came dressed as the Grinch), legislative leaders still seem intensely focused on trying to get something passed at a mid-December special session — roughly one month before the Legislature’s regular annual session is scheduled to begin in January.
Are they rushing things? Consider the following:
- At various times in recent weeks, dog grooming, portrait photography and photo finishing laboratories were on and off the list of services lawmakers were considering taxing. The state Tax Commission finally had to remind everyone that both services already are taxed, and have been for a while.
- Lawmakers insist they would like to have an income tax cut in place by Jan. 1, so Utahns could benefit from it for all of 2020. But that benefit may not be so readily apparent to many people. A spokeswoman for the Tax Commission told me it would take at least a month for the commission to create new tax tables to reflect the cut, and then paycheck withholdings would need adjusting. “If an employee does not change withholding according to the new tables the taxpayer will not see the benefit of tax reform tax cuts until they file their 2020 tax return,” a Tax Commission statement said. That would be in April of 2021. It follows that, if people end up withholding too little, they could owe at that time.
By all accounts, school officials haven’t bought off on that yet. And the public, many of whom barely notice when income taxes are withheld from their paychecks, would be bound to notice, and not appreciate, a rise in property taxes, which comes to them like a bill each fall.
The potentially fatal weakness in the plan is that it relies on voters next year to approve a change to the state’s constitution, allowing income taxes to be used for something other than education. If that fails, the state would be left with a depleted income tax giving schools less money, along with various sales tax hikes, including the equivalent of 12 extra cents per gallon of gas.
As Keith Prescott, a tax expert appointed to the tax reform task force said, “I’m starting to get the impression we haven’t looked at (unintended consequences) very much at all. … We haven’t dug into the details.” He added that, “I think Utah deserves better than this.”
Timing may not really be everything, despite a popular saying, but it can raise some interesting questions. A hastily called special session only a month before the start of the annual regular lawmaking session raises plenty of them.
It might make some sense if an entire package were in place. Even then, however, why not take the time to hold hearings during the regular 45-day session, listen to the concerns of all affected and consider amendments that might make the plan better?
Or why not let voters decide on the constitutional change first, then proceed with the whole package?
Few things could disrupt a prosperous state more than a massive tax reform plan that creates winners and losers or that short-changes an overcrowded public education system.
What’s the hurry?