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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 Democrat candidate Mike Weinholtz.
Interview by Tripp Baltz
Mike Weinholtz is a third-generation factory worker who put himself through night school and went on to become the CEO of a billion-dollar medical staffing company called CHG Healthcare. CHG, located in Utah, has more than 2,000 employees and has been named one of the 100 best places to work in America for 7 years in a row by Fortune Magazine.
What are your priorities related to state and local tax, if elected?
One of the most important tax-related policies is to restore Utah income tax policy to more closely mirror pre-1995 levels in order to better fund education. This means a 0.875 percent tax increase for the public. In addition, I would raise the income tax on those earning $250,000+ a year (which would include myself) an additional 1 percent. In almost all cases, this would still result in lower taxes when compared to 1995 levels. Finally, we need to reallocate income tax funds away from higher education, and have higher education draw from the general fund. To accommodate this, we would reallocate resources from other pots, such as transportation. It is estimated that this would generate $1.1 billion in new revenue for K-12 education.
What existing state and local tax measures or initiatives would you seek to support? Or curb?
On the state level, I would like to see a reevaluation of the extraction tax for natural resources. Our rates are much lower than our neighbors', and our schools and social services are suffering from it. On a local level, I have no particular opinion. I do feel that the state binds local governments too much in regards to setting tax policy, so much so that municipalities are afraid to raise taxes until budgets hit a critical level and drastic measures need to be taken. Sound taxation policy should not have increases of, in some recent cases, 70 percent in a single year.
What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to enacting your major tax-related initiatives?
The Legislature has been openly opposed any increases for public education and have had a governor that goes along to get along (although they, and the governor, have had no problem raising the taxes on things like gas and cigarettes). As governor, I will work with the Legislature to impress the importance of new funding and find solutions. However, I am not afraid to use the bully pulpit, the veto pen, and the court of public opinion to add additional pressure.
What is the biggest challenge you see facing Utah from a tax and revenue perspective, in light of current and evolving market conditions?
Aside from education funding, there are also looming infrastructure funding questions that will define the state for the next 30-50 years. We must identify long-term funding solutions to address crumbling waterways and secondary roads to serve both current and future needs. If we don’t, we will severely hinder growth and the economy.
Do you believe Utah has the right balance right now in terms of overall taxes? Does anything need to be re-balanced?
I do not. The state had a booming economy in the 1990’s, despite having generally higher taxes. During those days, we were able to attract business and fund our schools and infrastructure at more optimal rates. Currently, I am concerned that we have sacrificed short-term gains for long-term problems. Our students are not ready for college, our air is dirty, our water is polluted, and our roads and water infrastructure are starting to crumble due to a lack of maintenance. If we want business to come and stay, we must create an economic climate optimal for both the businesses themselves and the employees that work for these companies.
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