Since Utah became a state in 1896, the Utah Constitution has included a partisan requirement in determining the make up of the Utah State Tax Commission. Perhaps that requirement was justifiable earlier in our history, but with the complexity of Utah’s 21st century economy, the Governor and Senate should ignore partisan considerations and instead focus solely on a potential Tax Commissioner’s experience, qualifications and temperament.
The Utah Constitution prohibits having more than two members of the same political party on the Tax Commission at the same time. The 2014 Legislature overwhelmingly approved a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would eliminate that partisan requirement. This fall voters will have the final say, voting on November 4 whether to approve Amendment A. Your Taxpayers Association encourages Utahns to vote FOR Amendment A.
The Legislature writes the tax code, but attorneys and accountants for various companies understand that code and its application differently (if only because their clients conduct business in such disparate ways). The State Tax Commission must decide what the code means, and how it applies to the multiplicity of circumstances of these existing and emerging companies.
For example, just a decade ago, software as a service (SaaS) was virtually unknown; today Utah companies like At Task, Domo and others sell hundreds of millions of dollars of SaaS annually. Should Utah impose sales tax on SaaS in the same way it does on canned software, or as it does on legal, accounting and other similar services? There is no Republican or Democrat answer to that question.
Nor is there a partisan answer to this one: “What is the most accurate way of assessing the value of a mine, or any other centrally assessed property?” The answer to that question hinges on a thorough understanding of economic and business models of value, and the assumptions built into those models.
Because of this complexity, and because the Tax Commission’s chief role is to adjudicate application of the Tax Code, members of the State Tax Commission need to be leading experts in the theory, practice and application of tax law. Partisan affiliation should play no part in determining whether someone can serve on the Tax Commission. Utah needs the best practitioners, and no one should care whether a would-be Tax Commissioner registers Republican, Libertarian, Democrat, or chooses not to register at all.
When appointing and confirming members of the State Supreme Court, the Governor and the Senate evaluate knowledge, experience and judicial temperament. Partisan questions play no role. The same should be true of appointments to the State Tax Commission. To make sure that is the case, on November 4 vote FOR Amendment A.