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Bloomberg BNA recently posed a series of tax-centric questions to the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor in Utah. Below are the responses from Republican incumbent candidate Gary Herbert.
Interview by Tripp Baltz
As Utah's 17th governor, Herbert took the oath of office on Aug. 11, 2009. Prior to becoming the state's chief executive, Governor Herbert served as lieutenant governor for five years. He is the past chair of the Western Governors Association and National Governors Association. Governor Herbert and his wife, Jeanette, are the proud parents of six children and 16 grandchildren. They live in Salt Lake City.
What are your priorities related to state and local tax, if elected?
Utah has cultivated the most businesses-friendly environment in America. There are a number of important factors in that equation, but having the right tax policy is certainly among them. Utahns today have their lowest tax burden in 20 years thanks to prudent management of public funds and working with business to grow the economy. My priority will continue to be that we maintain the optimal balance to be able to invest in education and infrastructure, while encouraging business growth.
What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to enacting your major tax-related initiatives?
Utah has benefited from wise management. Our Republican-led Legislature and my administration have shown a strong commitment to fiscal prudence. There are always demands on the budget, but our commitment has been to live within our means and to prepare for a rainy day. Our Rainy Day Fund is now larger than it was prior to the Great Recession. Truthfully, many of our big challenges originate in Washington, D.C. Federal programs like Obamacare and the coverage gap it created for some of the most vulnerable among us—as well as the proposed federal solution—leaves states like Utah facing some difficult decisions. There are very few instances, if any, where Utah could not do better by not having to send the money to Washington in the first place or by taking the money back as a block grant without the strings attached. We are far better suited to handle our own issues than the federal government. We can get better results for less money.
What is the biggest challenge you see facing your state from a tax and revenue perspective, in light of current and evolving market conditions?
Utah's economy is leading the nation because we have properly balanced tax rates. One trend we have to adjust to is the cultural shift to purchasing more and more goods online. Today, Utah loses some $200 million of tax revenue that is owed but not collected. It isn't fair to brick-and-mortar businesses, and it presets a growing budget challenge. A federal solution is best, and I'm optimistic the issue will be addressed soon. Already, several states have made policy changes and that may be necessary in Utah if a federal solution does not materialize.
Do you believe Utah has the right balance right now in terms of overall taxes? Does anything need to be re-balanced?
Every state is working to set the right balance. Utah has benefited from setting smart tax policy. That said, public finding is dynamic enough that we cannot just set the tax policy and presume that it does not require continual review and adjustment. That's a large part of the job as governor: to create and maintain the optimal balance. We have done very well in our state, and the proof is the economic performance.
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