The Utah Taxpayers Association successfully held its annual Taxes Now Conference in June, and were delighted to have so many participants joining us in-person and for the first time, online!
We heard from state and national tax policy experts, as well as all five of Utah’s major gubernatorial candidates. The presentations were valuable and explained a lot about Utah’s current status in budgeting and how to maintain a strong tax system during this difficult time.
Senate President Stuart Adams addressed the work the Legislature had been doing to protect and appropriate budget tax dollars. He said that despite a $757 million ongoing revenue loss, the Legislature worked to increase education spending by 2.2% and still maintain the Constitutionally-mandated balanced budget. He also pointed to a study which shows two of Utah’s major metropolitan areas are in the top ten areas in the country poised for a recovery. What Utah has been doing is working, and we need to continue that prudence and foresight.
Carlos Braceras, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation, relayed information on change in traffic loads during the early months of the COVID-19 shutdown in the state. Braceras said that Average Daily Traffic (how many vehicles travel over a certain place) was down 50 – 60% in some parts of the state in March and into April with some areas, particularly high tourist areas such as Moab and Zion National Park being down 70%.
Braceras mentioned that with this significant decrease in ADT and overall traffic, the impacts on UDOT revenues from the gas tax remain to be seen, but will decrease sharply from the prior year. UDOT is working with legislators and planning ahead to ensure absolutely necessary construction projects are maintained, while still being responsible with the decrease in revenues. Braceras said that I-15 accounts for 22% of all traffic in the state, which is extremely significant. Right now, year over year, that figure is between 12 – 17%, dependent on the area.
Utah Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt also gave attendees a look at unemployment insurance and its trust fund in the state compared to the nation. Mr. Burt said that during the Great Recession, 35 states’ trust funds went insolvent, collectively taking more than $40 billion in debt to pay benefits. Nine states have already requested federal funds due to insolvency resulting from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah is unique with its unemployment insurance. Not only is Utah the 10th lowest unemployment insurance tax rate (approximately half the national average), but through setting the rates annually intentionally causes a lag in tax rate changes, preserving low rates during economically challenging times, and gradually increasing those rates to replenish the fund during good economic times. That gives Utah companies and the trust fund some breathing room during difficult times. We are seeing the benefits of this policy right now.
To view the entire Conference for yourself and to review the presentations, click here.