Tag Archives: taxes

Mineral and Petroleum “Literacy” Act: “Balanced” curriculum?

Legislators are on the move this year to take control of Utah’s education system (SJR1 and SJR9).  It seems that there are already steps being taken to write curriculum in the form of legislation.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, is pushing legislation that would require educators to "consider" adding lessons into the curriculum about energy development, with the "Mineral and Petroleum Literacy Act", HB25.  The bill has passed the house and has moved on to the Senate.

Recommended by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, and, in Drexler’s mind, in an effort to "balance" the curriculum, the bill

seeks to "educate" children about mining and petroleum drilling. The funds for the program would come out of surplus mining profits….most Utah kids don’t know that oil, gas and coal contribute to their education, and to the state’s economy. "Most of them," he[Drexler] said, "don’t know their iPods, their toothbrushes, their homes and their roads are all products of this kind of natural resource development."

(Jillian Rayfield, TPMMuckracker, November 19, 2010, who adds "The plan, it seems, is to show young Utahans how great oil is.")

It’s not enough that information about Utah is taught in elementary and middle school Utah Studies curriculum, including industries of the Beehive state. I t is speculated by some that legislators fear the knowledge that children are receiving in other curricular areas about energy and conservation.

The Salt Lake Tribune gives this bill a "thumbs down" to this piece of legislation:

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Ogden, has convinced his colleagues in the House that Utah schoolchildren are learning too much about energy conservation and recycling and not enough about the benefits of drilling for gas and oil. We’re not sure why they see this as a scale that must be balanced. Somehow, they seem to fear, children will be persuaded that if conservation and recycling are good then energy development is bad. Draxler’s bill would allocate all-too-scarce dollars so that teachers can explain that Americans should continue to rely on and subsidize fossil fuels. If balance is needed, we’d like to also see an explanation of how burning carbon fuels and drilling for them are contributing to the air that’s so bad these same children can’t go outside at recess.

Not to mention education about the longevity of the natural resources being extracted and the impact to the ecosystems as a result of the degradation of the land.

The funding allocation is vague as well.  While it is stated that monies would be generated from the surplus funds of the Oil and Gas Conservation Account, which is a fund that has a state mandated cap, it doesn’t say how much would be given from that and how much beyond the cap would need to come from Utah taxpayers.

This is a biased and unbalanced piece of legislation that has not brought all interests to the table for discussion.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Taxing “deadly” products is proving “deadly” for business owners

The recent legislation imposing a hike in taxes on tobacco products is proving deadly for local business owners.  Legislators have effectively instituted measures that are forcing people having to turn to buying their "deadly" products out of state and forcing local businesses to close their doors.   One such business is Utah’s oldest smoke shop, Jeanie’s tobacco.  The business is being forced to close it’s doors as a result of 2010 legislation that imposed a significant tax increase on cigarettes.

July 1….is the date by which [owner] Klc must come up with $125,000 to cover the higher tax on his existing inventory. Klc says it’s too big an investment for products that will be taxed at some of the highest rates in the nation.

"When I think of my customers and suppliers, I feel like I’m losing my best friends. It’s like I’m going to a funeral.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, who fought for years to raise Utah’s tobacco tax, said he understood that distributors would have to pay the bill, not retailers. But Charlie Roberts, Utah Tax Commission spokesman, said retailers indeed must pay the higher tax and yes, it will come due when the law takes effect this summer.

"If that’s the way it is, then so be it," Christensen said. "I’m sorry for some of the businessmen the law will impact, but they’re selling a deadly product."

(Salt Lake Tribune)

Well, let’s talk about what is "deadly" that also should be taxed.

Guns:  Utahns are big on guns.  Legilsators need to impose a guns and bullet tax hike:  100% hike on guns and $1.00 per bullet (government exempt)
Pollution:  All companies that contribute to the polluted air in Utah should be taxed even higher such as oil refineries and coal fired power plants (which put mercury into the air).
Alcohol:  Let’s close all liquor stores and have another prohibition!
Products with aspartagme:
Energy drinks
Fast food that is contributing to the ill health of Americans
(Utah should NEVER allow Big Mac’s into the state!)

Running local businesses out of town that have been in existence for a century or more is criminal in itself!  Legislators need to be equitable about which "deadly" products and companies producing "deadly" products are being taxed.
(see my previous post on Vice Taxing)

Vice Taxing

Utah’s legislators are about to set the stage for placing a tax on tobacco products.  But what about considering increasing taxes on all “vices”?

HB196 Tobacco Tax Revisions aims to increase the tax rates “on the
sale, use, storage, or distribution of tobacco products in the state for the 2010-11 fiscal year and allowing the rates to fluctuate in subsequent fiscal years”.

SB40 Cigarette and Tobacco Tax Amendments aims to
“increase the tax on cigarettes, moist snuff, and other tobacco products; deposit income from the permanent state trust fund into the General Fund; and
address the deposit of revenues collected from the taxes; make technical and conforming changes”.

HB71 Nicotine Product Restrictions “amends provisions of the Uniform Driver License Act, provisions relating to the state system of public education, the Utah Criminal Code, and the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure to place restrictions on the provision, obtaining, and possession of a nicotine product and to enforce these restrictions”.  Specifically, the bill is aimed to prevent the sale of nicotine laced candy and gum (not including smoking cessation products) in Utah, the products of which are currently not available in the state.

The sponsor of HB71, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has been the target by tobacco companies for possible court action should the bill pass, according to a Deseret News Article.

“Now they need to try to keep going by doping candy with the most addictive and deadly substance in tobacco,” he said. “Utah has made a point of protecting our youth from the hazards of tobacco use, and now that they are targeting a new market with lozenges and mints, we think that’s going to far.”

Read the rest of the article here.

In his piece in the Deseret News, Tobacco tax to hit those who can least afford it Lee Benson shares his encounter with folks addicted to tobacco who, despite raising taxes on the products and thus the consideration to stop the addiction, still are not able to stop.

“I know smoking’s not healthy,” he[patron at tobacco shop] says. “But every time I stop smoking, I gain weight — so I have to decide, am I going to die from obesity or from smoking?”

Smokers, he says, are a “scapegoat” for taxation.

“Nine percent of taxpayers smoke. Out of that 9 percent, they’re trying to take care of the majority. It isn’t fair. But what can you do?”

Benson interviews Sy Pham,  a tobacco wholesaler, who complains of the disparity between citizens actually paying for the tax increase:


Continue reading

Why Stop At 12th Grade? Just Do Away With Education All Together!

The proposal to to cut out the 12th grade to save $60 million in Utah’s Budget has generated much commentary in the blogosphere.

Over at the Jonathan Turley Blog, an interesting (tongue in cheek) concept has been presented as a result of Sen. Chris Buttars’ proposal :

It is not clear why legislators have decided to keep public education at all. If we simply eliminate education, we can send children directly into military training or to work for foreign companies from countries that are expanding their research and educational budgets at the same rate of our decline.

Mr. Turley offers this sentiment, referring to other destructive actions that the U.S. implements (that impacts state funding), all to “save money” while funds are continually being poured into the defense coffers – funds that could be diverted to state budgets:

….the proposal captures our self-destructive path. While nations like China are massively increasing research and educational budgets (here), we are selling off public lands and buildings, (here), while pouring money into Iraq and Afghanistan. What do we think is going to happen? Because few of our politicians have the courage to demand a withdrawal from these countries, we are raising our debt limits, destroying our public programs, and undercutting our ability to compete in the future marketplace.

Cutting out a grade in public education is a bad idea.  Doing so does nothing to support public education or address the issues that face public educators.  This bill is a waste of Legilsators time and taxpayer’s money.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

How the Insurance Industry”incarcerates” the purse strings of lawmakers

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

It is no secret that medical care is inadequate for inmates.  Legislators have a history of not approving adequate funding for the care of those who are incarcerated.  So when a bill is proposed that would save taxpayers money and still allow for inmates to receive medical care (under the provisions of the bill), you would think that Legislators would be happy, right?

Wrong.  The insurance industry obviously has influence over legislators with this issue.

Yesterday the House shot down a bill that would permit inmates to use their private insurance to pay for their health care while incarcerated.

H.B. 22Inmate Health Insurance Amendments,would require the inmates’ private carrier to serve as the primary insurer while serving time in a state or county facility.

According to an article in the Deseret News,

House members voted against the bill, saying state taxpayers should pick up the cost, even if the inmate is insured.Opponents said during debate that the bill painted insurers as bad guys, when in fact the bad guys are the ones who broke laws that got them arrested and incarcerated. They also argued that the bill was anti-free market and smacked of government takeover of a private enterprise.

Interestingly, the article points out the amount of donations candidates received in the 2008 elections.

In the 2008 election, the insurance industry gave $313,311 to state-level candidates (including the Legislature, governor and attorney general), according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Insurance companies gave the second-most of any industry that year, outdistanced only by the securities and investment industry, which gave $614,207, according to the institute.

And big insurance companies lose few political fights in the Utah Legislature.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, points out the cost savings to taxpayers with the passage of this bill.

The bill would save county jails more money than the state, with only a handful of felons in the state prison having outside health insurance. But a number of county jail inmates, who may be sentenced for several months up to a year, have insurance while incarcerated, Ray said.

"Taxpayers are getting hammered, and it’s time for insurance companies to step up and pay for what they’ve contracted for," said Ray just before his bill was voted down on a 30-44 vote.

This is just one example of how lawmakers are"incarcerated" themselves by big corporations….and at the expense of taxpayers and those in need of care.

Let the Games Begin!

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Today’s opening of the Utah Legislature will bring  a variety of  issues in the spotlight, among them being:

The Budget- addressing the “shortfall” and how/if to use the “rainy day” fund and other measures to generate revenue –  and within the budget debate are the hot topics of public and higher education, state retirement system, transportation and taxes on food, as well as the overall raising of taxes issue.

Ethics Reform – including a controversial citizen’s initiative and a package of proposed ethics bills by legislators, inlcuding establishing an independent commission to hear complaints from citizens and putting limits on campaign contributions.

Fair Housing and Employment practice for gays and lesbians – a bill proposed that will afford the GLBT population protection from discrimination in employment and housing

Health Care Reform – an overhaul of Utah’s health care system through a package of bills that intend to divert the current sick care system to a more preventative health care system.

Sex Education – measures to determine how much information students should have access to when it comes to using contraception

Be sure to connect to the Utah Legislature’s website which has a multitude of resources including bill tracking, archived videos of the various sessions and a children’s page.  See also Utah Legislature Watch’s post on resources and the various news feeds along the sidebars of our site.

And awaayy we go!

Legislators get brand new toys while citizens will feel impact of budget cuts

While budgets are being slashed, Utah legislators have and will reap the benefits of new technology: brand new laptops and cell phones.
The justification for this? According to an article in the Deseret News:

….legislative leaders point out that the new computers were authorized several years ago when the state was swimming in money.

Well there ya go. Now that makes sense.
Even though monies in excess of over $1 million are being cut from state budgets, monies that were already approved in prior budgets, legislator’s won’t feel the impact of that with their new toys. Here are the costs:

The new cell phone and service contract — which will cost around $145,000 a year — is already built into the Legislature’s ongoing budget. So the new phones aren’t costing the state additional tax dollars. And the Legislature is taking, on average, the same budget cuts as the rest of state government….Michael Christensen, head of the Legislative Office of Research and General Counsel, said the state will pay $12,031 a month for the phones and service.

Wow. Utah’s priorities really need more scrutiny. This expenditure is not responsible given what citizens are facing in terms of the impact of the looming budget cuts.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Legislators, listen to the people: No raised taxes on food!

(cross-posted on Utah Legislature Watch)

A poll conducted by the Deseret News/KSL-TV on raising taxes on food has yielded these results (published in the Deseret News):

….65 percent of Utahns say they definitely or probably oppose increasing the food tax. The survey of 408 Utahns, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, found 33 percent definitely or probably approve of raising the tax.

Two polls published on Utah Legislature Watch support these results as well (here and here).
Despite what some legislators say will be a “break” with a credit at income tax time for low income earners, this will hit those in need more on a daily basis since this population spends a higher percentage of their wages on basic necessities.

Utah legislators, listen to the people: Do not support a reinstatement of the former rate of sales tax on food!

Education Budget: Meeting Today’s Demands

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Always a hot topic in the Utah Legislative Session, the budget discussion for education will once again address how to meet the demands of Utah’s changing demographics.

That is, if Utah’s legislators decide to recognize that Utah is not the same as it was a decade, and more, ago.
The Salt Lake Tribune has published an article on how students are doing in the state. On the surface, Utah looks good:

Utah students have a higher high school graduation rate than the nation on average; they have a higher average ACT score; and they meet or beat national averages on nationwide math, reading, writing and science tests.

But statistical examination of the breakdown paints a different picture:

When statewide results are broken down by race, Utah’s racial groups, including white students, sometimes perform below national averages for their peers, a Tribune analysis shows.

The article goes on to offer explanation to the “statistical paradox” of Utah’s student performance, especially given the fact that Utah has the lowest per pupil spending and highest class sizes. Added to this is Utah’s declining high school graduation rate.

According to Education Week reports, Utah had the highest high school graduation rate in the country in 2004. By 2006, Utah had slipped to 26th in the country.

Interviews with teachers and other officials offer further insights about the realities of teaching in Utah.

“As we fall farther behind in funding it should be no surprise to anyone that student achievement follows,” said State Superintendent Larry Shumway. “Our teachers are doing the best they can, but we aren’t providing the support for student learning that we ought to be providing.”

At the root of discussion is money. There are differing viewpoints on education spending.

[Jay Blain, a math teacher at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City] Blain believes Utah’s relatively low per-pupil funding and large class sizes are the main reasons Utah students are falling behind.”Resources matter,” Blain said. “Tell me that it wouldn’t matter to have 30 kids in an algebra II class instead of 40.”

Will legislators agree?

[Sen. Howard Stephenson, co-chair of the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee]
He said the way to improve Utah education is by attracting more quality teachers to classrooms. But to do that, he wants to boost teacher pay by putting schools on more efficient year-round schedules to save money.Putting more money toward education would “require higher taxes,” he said. In the past, Stephenson has said Utah should be a model for other states when it comes to eliminating waste in education spending.
[Rep. Greg Hughes, co-chair of the Education Interim Committee]
“If test scores were directly tied to funding then the District of Columbia would have the highest student test scores in America,” Hughes said, referring to the troubled Washington, D.C., school system, which spends the third-highest amount of money per student in the country.Though he said he’s not opposed to increasing education funding, Utah simply faces funding challenges other states don’t. Utah has the highest proportion of school-age children of any state in the nation, and about 65 percent of Utah land is federally-owned, meaning it can’t be taxed for schools, he said. “I don’t know how you ever overcome that,” Hughes said.

One thing for sure. Utah’s population is not the same as it was a decade ago. The demographics are changing and have been for quite some time. I’ts time to put education money into these changes. It’s not fair to impulsively and prematurely react by stating that taxes cannot be raised to fund education. While legislators are moving ahead with raising the taxes on unprepared food, a human necessity, they are balking at raising taxes to fund the education for our state’s children? Is not education also a human necessity? Where is the logic in not examining ALL possibilities, including raising taxes for this critcal need?

War Taxes

Today is the day that the U.S. Government says is the deadline for filing the annual income tax.  Even though there is a new president, there is and will still be too much of our money spent on the military industrial complex.

The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) is an organization that advocates for withholding the portion of one’s income tax that is spent on war.  It is a coalition of groups from across the U.S., formed in 1982 to provide information and support to people involved in or considering some form of war tax resistance (WTR).  Each year there are actions planned all around the country – view today’s actions here.

Several years ago Tom and I were in D.C.on April 15th and partiicpated in an action at the IRS building there.  People gathered to collectively present a giant (I mean giant in the physical sense!) check for their portion of taxes spent on war to a non-profit organization.  Very clever and creative.

Your Taxes Are War Taxes
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

2009 War Tax Boycott logo