Utah Governor Gary Herbert can claim many accolades. He boasts a 70 percent approval rating, higher than any major officeholder in the state. He is only the third Utah governor to serve more than eight years in office, another testament to the regard people have for him. And, if current trends continue until June 2019, he will lead Utah during its longest economic expansion on record (121 consecutive months)
These are impressive credentials, but I want to salute him for something equally impressive: a rare political trait called courage. Gov. Herbert, who has said he will not seek re-election, has proposed to modernize Utah's sales tax system and this act of political valor deserves our support and praise.
Think of it this way: Gov. Herbert could coast through the next two years enjoying the second floor of the State Capitol, the mansion on South Temple, his fleet of black SUVs, and a long list of ceremonial appearances. Instead, the governor is putting the state's interests above his own. He has chosen to finish strong by pursuing one of the most vexing political challenges: making changes to what people pay for the benefits of citizenship.
After working in the Utah state budget office for 16 years, among the many lessons I learned is that tax reform is not for the faint of heart. When you reform taxes you change the rules and force some people to pay more and some people to pay less, all for the good of the whole. The people who pay more don't take the change lying down, they come after you and make life difficult.
For example, Governor Norman Bangerter, who governed during a challenging economic time when both Geneva Steel and Kennecott Copper closed, raised taxes. He nearly lost re-election.
Governor Michael Leavitt, who governed during a period of prosperity, lowered taxes but also eliminated many sales tax exemptions (a tax increase) to help with school equalization. These exemptions were eventually restored, making the reforms short lived.
Governor Jon Huntsman, who governed during a boom and bust, introduced a flat income tax rate. This was a tax reduction, not tax reform because everybody's tax liability dropped. It's important not to confuse a tax cut with true reform.
Gov. Herbert came into office during the worst economic conditions in modern history has helped to engineer an impressive economic recovery. Now, he has chosen to use this prosperous time to address a structural problem in Utah's sales tax. He knows...