You can read the full op-ed below or on the Standard-Examiner.
As Utah’s economy continues to improve, government officials at all levels are acting like Pokemon Go players, scrambling after ever more funding through new and growing taxes on the citizenry. Between Weber County, Ogden City and the Weber School District, our area has been inundated with requests for new money.
Two entities have already voted to raise taxes: Weber School District and Ogden City. The district unanimously approved a nearly 7 percent increase to pay for buses, instructional materials and maintenance. At the same time, Ogden City voted to elevate property taxes by 31 percent to fund salary increases for city workers. The city claims that residents won’t notice because it will be offset by an expiring General Obligation bond. Ogden already collects much higher than average taxes and fees from its citizens than do similarly populated cities elsewhere in the state — 20 percent higher per capita — and when considered as a proportion of resident income, 41 percent higher.
Additionally, Weber County is considering a 25 percent property tax increase to raise over $8 million, mostly for county employee raises, claiming that sheriff’s office employees make less money than those in other areas around the state. This, despite the fact that per capita tax/fee rates in Weber County, like its largest city, are much higher than other similarly-sized counties in Utah – by 50 percent.
Every time a tax is increased we’re told that’s it’s only minimal, but those raising these taxes off of the backs of workers and business owners fail to acknowledge that the drip, drip, drip of ever-increasing, incremental tax boosts are enough to significantly harm businesses and individuals who don’t generally see income increases simply because they want or need them.
We are willing to acknowledge that sometimes tax increases are necessary, but a fair analysis of the burden these expanding obligations place on the working poor, businesses that stimulate the economy and create jobs, families just trying to get by and those on fixed-incomes, must be a part of the process of debate and analysis.
Two out of three of these property tax increases are being touted as necessary to retain a qualified workforce. Without making a statement of support for or against any one of these proposals, it’s important to at least acknowledge that on average, government employees still outpace similarly-skilled workers in the private sector when we take into account both salary and benefits.
Our state is doing well enough, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, that many private businesses are also struggling to fill jobs; this is not a problem unique to the public sector. Yet we’re asking that individuals, most of whom are employed in the private sector at lower average wages, as well as businesses, many of which would probably love to give their employees raises if they were able, and those on fixed incomes, to bear the responsibility for shouldering these salary increases.
As mentioned above, Ogden City and Weber County, prior to any recent increases, already levy some of the highest taxes and fees in the state compared to similarly-sized entities. Before even discussing increases, we ought to be certain that we’re making every effort to efficiently utilize current tax dollars and ensure transparency in order to guarantee that those new dollars are going toward funding for the programs and policy objectives used to sell these increases to the public.
All too often the justifications given to convince the public that higher taxes are necessary don’t end up being the priorities once the money is in hand. A public process of debate, discussion, transparency, and consistency in word and action by our elected representatives would allow for greater trust and, we believe, willingness of the public to support tax increases when truly necessary.
Rep. Gage Froerer
Sen. Scott Jenkins
Gage Froerer is a member of the Utah House of Representatives, District 8
Scott K. Jenkins is a member of the Utah State Senate, District 20.