Primary Election Issue: Yes, The 2018 Utah Legislature Raised Taxes On Middle Class Families

If you haven’t noticed yet, take a look at your recent paycheck. If you have a family and have a middle class income, you may notice that your take home pay went down. But how can this be? We were told the legislature (slightly) lowered the income tax rate from 5.00% to 4.95%. Yes, but they also knowingly did nothing about the removal of personal deductions. The Trib article,“Utahns with large families could be paying a lot more in state taxes next year”, and it’s associated impact table (be sure to look at it!) sum it up:

The Utah Legislature passed a 0.05 percent income tax cut this year but took no action on changes in federal tax law that eliminated personal deductions. The decision means most Utah taxpayers will pay more in state tax in 2019 even though their overall tax bills will be lower because of the federal cuts.

Legislators and he Governor were well aware of the need to address the changes and certainly better not claim ignorance:

For example, an $80,000-a-year family of seven with one disabled child might currently itemize deductions equal to about 20 percent of income and end up with a state tax bill of $2,200. Next year, that family will do better claiming the standard deduction. But they will lose $17,000 in other deductions, and their tax bill could jump by $1,000, or 45 percent.

Lawmakers knew all this back in January, when the state Tax Commission reported a potential $80 million windfall for the state thanks to federal tax changes and outlined the “average Joe” impacts. The cost of the income tax cut the Legislature eventually approved was about $55 million — an amount more than offset by that windfall.

But for about the same cost, lawmakers could have taken action to preserve the state personal exemption and pass along those savings to taxpayers — something that neighboring Idaho did this year by creating a state child tax credit.

House Bill 385 was such a bill. Introduced by first-termer Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, it didn’t even get out of committee, a victim of other priorities.

Yes, they had “other priorities”…like helping political cronies such as UTA with millions for a name change. Maybe another priority was creating a bridgehead for an education ‘head tax’ on children but they didn’t have the guts to debate it in the open. Instead, they chose to sneak one through on taxpayers and Governor Herbert went along with it.

Since it’s primary season and an election year, this issue would be a good one to bring up to incumbent state legislators (such as Ray Ward in South Davis County) and opposing candidates.

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Select 2014 South Davis Candidates And Issues

This is not a comprehensive list – just a few select candidates issues.  Here’s my opinion in a very rushed post, for what it’s worth.
RAP Tax – See my post entitled “Heed Bastiat: Bountiful RAP Tax (2014)” for details.  A partial summation from the post:

I guess all I can say is that I have a lot of hobbies and interests I enjoy participating in.  I take the time and money to pay for those and don’t demand that my wealthy neighbor, the widow on a fixed income, or a struggling young family pay for or subsidize my fun.  I am fortunate and grateful that I get to voluntarily donate and assist others.  I would just ask that the same courtesy be granted to me and to those least able to pay.

Board of Education
I’m going with Laura Belnap.  While I don’t see eye-to-eye with her on everything, she’s much more open to parental input and involvement than her opponent.  She is responsive and willing to engage, something I hope (and expect) that she’ll carry on into office. Belnap also has previous education experience and served on other boards. Finally, she appears to be independent (which give citizens a better voice) rather than being propped up by entrenched political interests.

Commission Seat B
I’m going to go with Ryan Macfarlane. Jim Smith is way too tied in with the Chamber of Commerce and I simply have trouble believing he’ll keep citizen interests as the top priority.  Various Chambers of Commerce (particularly the National and Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce) have been bastions of promoting and lobbying for corporate welfare and cronyism.  Their reps tend to just toe the line and I’m not interested in this.  Udy, on the other hand, will tend to far the other way with well-intentioned projects that have the tendency to raise taxes and burdens on residents (although her focus on transparency is worth giving her a second look).  I believe, Macfarlane will hold spending down and keep a sharp eye out for how appropriate current and future programs will be.

Constitutional Amendment A
I’m going to oppose this.  After the IRS was used to target tea party and conservative groups, I think it is best to keep the split on the commission and prevent a single political affiliation from dominating the commission seats.  I don’t really care for arbitrary qualifications (like party affiliation) but make an exception in this instance.  Yeah, the vast majority who are placed in the position will be well-qualified and serve honorably but it just takes once to really muck things up (especially if you can get away with it with media complicity ala Obama IRS…imagine if this were Bush or Nixon!).  An recent experience, I say we keep the current check/balance.

Constitutional Amendment C
Opposed but primarily because I don’t see the need.  It seems that the AG’s office can fulfill the requests.  The voter’s guide opponents also make a good point that having each agency head with a personal counsel could allow undue influence on them rather than having a more disinterested assigned attorney from the AG’s office.  I’m open to feedback on this one – feel free to comment with reasons why this should be supported.

Tax Stewardship: Bountiful City Finds Way To Quintuple Pet Project Costs

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the city’s pet project (please read it for background). At that time, I noted that the city had managed to take a $1.5 million project (half of which was supposed to be paid by private donations) and managed to inflate it to $7.2 million.

The city’s efforts continue. The project is now up to $9.5-10.5 million for the new city hall alone:

Bountiful resident Dean Collinwood, along with more than 100 other residents, have requested that the city council halt construction plans for the new building, which is projected to cost the city between $9.5 and $10.5 million dollars.

Since this new figure is only for the City Hall portion,  adding in the $2.4 mil for the art center/museum brings us to $11.9- $12.9 million.  When they started to look at remodeling the art center/museum, we were looking at $750,000 (half of $1.5 mil.), then we came to $2.4 mil. After that, using secret ninja RDA gimmicks, the city wanted $7.2 mil to include a new (unnecessary) city hall and a loss of revenue for schools. Here is the breakdown of the cost overrun depending which of the initial art center estimates you want to use (I’ll use the “low” $11.9 mil. estimate) — SEE UPDATE 2!–:

  • $750,000 to $11.9 million = 1,587% increase
  • $1.5 mil to $11.9 million = 793% increase
  • $2.4 mil to $11.9 million = 496% increase

Mr. Collinwood has a letter to the editor encouraging citizen action along with who to contact.  He may have ulterior motives in doing so, however.  It turns out that he chairs the Bountiful Historical Commission which pushed for what initiated this debacle in the first place.  I wonder if he’s worried that the major cost overruns may end up downsizing the art center/museum or outright terminate it.  He may be afraid of losing his pet project.

If his motives are singular to stopping a massive waste of citizens’ money without regard to the outcome of museum, I wish Mr. Collinwood the best and will do my part but I’ve dealt with this stuff long enough not to hold much hope. Citizens are complacent and like ‘local Santa’ giving them stuff. They fail to make the link that the ‘freebies’ are paid with someone else’s money (including art centers and museums). They haven’t internalized the limited, core functions of government they pay lip service to.  Please prove me wrong.

UPDATE: I made major edits to this post after finding out that the $2.4 mil. art/museum project was separate from the quoted $9.5 mil. and after noticing that Mr. Collinwood’s motives may not be entirely altruistic.

UPDATE 2: Per the latest Bountiful City Council agenda, the cost of city hall will be $9.97 Mil.   Here is the cost increase (overrun) breakdown based on this number (9.97+2.4=12.37):

  • $750,000 to $12.37 million = 1,649% increase
  • $1.5 mil to $12.37 million = 825% increase
  • $2.4 mil to $12.37 million = 515% increase

Fail: Market Reality VS Common Core

Currently, I have children in a charter school as well as a traditional school.  I have been very happy with the math program and flexibility/fluidity offered in the charter school with various subjects.  The traditional school has been a reasonably good fit for my other child with the exception of the Common Core portion.

This whole year, despite still getting a good grade, my son has been struggling with math, has not gained a real understanding of key concepts, and we’ve been frustrated with the program ourselves. We couldn’t figure out why things were so unnecessarily difficult and, just this week, we found out the school has implemented the Common Core math program. Since then, I have talked to other parents in the neighborhood  (and teachers) and heard the exact same concerns from them.

The program jumps from one concept to another unrelated concept, lacks foundation building, lacks review of the concepts they completed (they don’t see what they just learned a few weeks ago). It is the worst math learning program I’ve ever seen. I’ve had to teach my son the “right” way to do some of the problems because the way he was taught to do them was overly complex and turned simple things into a convoluted mess to get the same answer. The resulting lack of foundation knowledge to apply these critical math concepts has lead my wife and I to get some math books for him to go through this summer to actually gain a foundation and understand the concepts.

During the parent-teacher conferences, his teacher also expressed (politely, of course) frustrations with the lack of review and problem solving concept issues and is doing her best to incorporate reviews whenever she can. Her concerns about retention and application extend to the whole class.

After finding out that Common Core math was being used, I have begun looking into it more and have some serious concerns about Common Core and what it means for my children (and all children in the public education system); particularly, related to preparing realizing the full potential of current students when they enter the labor force.

The strength of the charter school and the ability to choose educational programs (including traditional schools) to fit the child will be significantly constricted by Common Core.  The program is a top-down approach that effectively dictates what math/reading etc programs will be used and destroys the ability of schools (charter and otherwise) to offer their own unique programs or tailor curriculum to the students they serve.  It destroys the small amount of educational choice we have.  It is clear that one-size-fits-all approaches never truly “fit all” and significant numbers fall through the cracks.  This is also reflected in the marketplace.

Schools are supposed to provide a basis for students to enter and compete in a broadening marketplace with a premium in innovation.  The marketplace has consistently encouraged and delivered customizable solutions to consumers.  Consumers are not interested in on-size-fits all products they must adapt to – the expectation is that products should adapt to the individual.  This can be seen with the thousands of apps, software programs, food choices, brands, electronics, vehicles…virtually every consumer good is pushed to being able to be customized beyond small groups and clear down to the individual.

Common Core is, at it’s essence, a one-size-fits-all program that dictates what and how subjects will be taught.  In that respect, it absolutely fails to acknowledge the market demanding customization.  Besides constricting educational innovation to preclude delivery of the most effective tools to the individual student, Common Core will necessarily result in significant numbers of students falling through the cracks when the boilerplate math/reading/other program does not fit them.  Furthermore, other students, while passing, will not meet their full potential without the ability to find the best fit.

Common Core fails to acknowledge the uniqueness of each child and will be a blow educationally and economically to children.  It has already set back my child who now needs “math home school” this summer in order to regain a foundation.  That is unacceptable.

UPDATE: An excellent personal experience essay from a teacher working on their Educaion Policy PhD.

UPDATE 2: Utah State Senator’s Weiler and Dayton have written on Common Core.  Senator Weiler’s (What’s the deal with “Common Core”?) is detailed and received supportive comments from both sides (Dixie Allen on the State Board of Ed and Christel Swasey) – I highly recommend reading his post. Senator Dayton’s (Thoughts on NCLB & the Common Core) is brief but discusses the funding carrot link related to No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top and Common Core.

New Indoctrination: “Free” School Breakfast

School started a few weeks ago and I got a surprise.  I was informed that the first 10 minutes of school is now set aside for a mandatory free breakfast for all students.  It doesn’t matter if they want it or not nor does income level factor in.  Everyone is given their “free government cheese”.

Evidently, parents simply can’t be trusted to feed their own children.  Before anyone retorts about low income parents troubles, don’t bother.  This is not means tested at all.  Furthermore, low income families qualify for food stamps and have the food at home to provide breakfast (and yes I do know people on food stamps).  Am I to understand they are refusing to provide any food to their children?!  C’mon.

What is more upsetting, however, is the destructive nature of this program.  It tells kids that they and their parents are not responsible for their own most basic of needs.  No, no, that too is the responsiblity of government and your neighbors.  It intimates that you and your parents are incapable of taking care of you.  Everyone else should be expected to provide for you with no effort of your own because you can’t.    It strikes the to the core of individual responsibility and self-esteem.  It fully trades all that in for entitlement and dependancy.

Under this program, children, starting in kindergarten, are ingrained with the mentality that government is their sole provider.

Obviously, my family will be discussing the issue at home.  We’ll certainly discuss the responsibility to provide for ourselves and not burden our neighbors.  We’ll also be emphasizing that somebody paid for that breakfast (it is NOT free!) and the appropriateness of taking another’s money without their permission.  Furthermore, breakfast will be served (and eaten) at home.

I hope that the school breakfasts will be left, uneaten, on the desk each morning and the 10 minutes spent on actual school activities.

Flushed: School RDA Money Wasted On Bountiful Pet Project

A primmer on how to triple the cost of a special interest project:

I just learned that Bountiful City has quietly managed a scheme to take over $2.4 million of RDA (tax) money that should have been used for projects that enhance economic development and increase the tax base. The tax revenues that have been lost because of this would have gone to our public schools.

Rather than creating new businesses that pay taxes, the Council will use the $2.4 to transform the current city hall into an arts center and museum. Of course both of these are tax exempt entities that will be housed in tax exempt buildings. In addition, both will require ongoing tax subsidies for the operation and maintenance of the facilities so rather than being tax revenue producers they will be tax revenue consumers.

It get’s better: the city will also take $4.8 million from reserves to build a new city hall in spite of the fact that the current city hall is newer than many homes in Bountiful and is in good enough shape to be converted to a museum and arts center. That puts us at $7.2 million in tax money. Furthermore, as the only reason the new city hall is being built is for the arts center, realistically, the art center has cost taxpayers $7.2 million (tripling project cost).

Be aware, as well, that not that long ago, the museum was only supposed to cost us $750K with another $750K raised by donations (a total of $1.5 million). That facade didn’t last long nor did the cost. Based on the original estimate, the cost jumped 480%.

Here’s how they did it: First, the city council and mayor changed current RDA boundaries to encompass the old art center and declared it “blighted”. Later, they decided to move the arts center and museum into the current city hall and replace the current arts building with a brand, new multimillion dollar city hall. This required another change in the RDA so it would encompass the current city hall. It also required declaring city hall”blighted” (despite it only being 35 years old). Part of the justification for the “blighted” designation is that the city hall building doesn’t have new technology components.

Besides effectively taking millions in taxes that should have been used to increase the tax base for schools, the council did so with little public information – I believe the Standard Examiner had a few reports, but the city never reported the new city hall or any of the RDA trickery until after the decision (with a small inset in the May newsletter).

Furthermore, the “blight” justification should raise a big red flag as most homes would fit their designation (including mine) simply due to age and lack of ‘technology infrastructure’, which would allow the city to declare most of Bountiful blighted and ‘redevelop’ those areas (especially after the Kelo decision).

As far as I’m concerned, the methods they employed are underhanded and set a bad precedent.

UPDATE: Here’s a couple of reports worth reading on RDAs in Utah if you want to brush up on the subject.  Note the bait and switch documented in the 2006 League of Women Voters report (cities gave up power and took it back by tightening the law and adding in new wording to maintain power – see “Community Development Track”).  Curt Bramble ran the legislation written by…The Utah League of Cities and Towns.

A Utah Community Action Partnership Association Report – Redevelopment Agencies and Housing in Utah

League of Women Voters Of Utah – Redevelopment Agency Study

Utah Educational Affirmative Action Program Targets Charter Schools

This is one that came out of left field and I have no idea where the legislation enacting this began (or what legislation this provision was hidden in).  Admittedly, it will take some digging to figure it out.  Further, I really don’t have any qualms with the below groups but do have a serious problem with preferential social engineering.

Charter schools, particularly those with a good educational reputation, can be tough to get into based on the numbers entering in admission lotteries (special exception were, understandably, made for siblings).  Now, however, the legislature has intervened and decided certain groups should be given special treatment.  From American Preparatory Academy’s online enrollment application:

Priority Consideration

Announcement: Due to the change in the state law regarding charter school enrollment priorities, we may be able to give a priority to students who:

Are refugees or whose family members are refugees
Speak a language other than English as the primary language in their home

Do you speak a language other than English as the primary language in the home?
Did you, your parents, or your children enter the United States under refugee status?

Prior to this, everyone was on an even keel – all could attend a traditional public school and have an equal chance to draw a charter school slot.  Now,  capricious social planning is providing  politician(s)’ favored groups an preferential treatment.