Questionable Tax Reform Materials Commissioned by Governor’s Office. Legislature Demands Payment to Release Records.
Utah Legislative Watch (“ULW”) has confirmed that the polished brochures, video, and website, marketed under the moniker StrongerFutures.Utah.gov, and presented in eight public meetings around the State by the Tax Reform Task Force, was commissioned and paid for by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
“Ever since the information was presented by the Task Force at the first meeting in Brigham City, we have wondered where it came from, who produced it, and for what reason,” said Brett Hastings, Director of ULW.
In an effort to answer these questions, Utah Legislative Watch issued information requests to the Utah House of Representatives, Utah Senate, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Analyst, as well as the Governor’s Office, under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”).
Although the requested documents have yet to be released, the Records Officers of both the Utah House and Senate confirmed to ULW that the information was produced by Penna Powers, Inc., a local marketing and public relations firm, at the request of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
“We are anxious to receive the requested documents from the Legislature and the Governor’s Office,” said Tenna Hartman, a co-founder of ULW, “the problem is the Legislature is demanding thousands of dollars before they will release the information.”
In an effort to raise the funds demanded by the Legislature, ULW recently launched a Go Fund Me campaign asking for donations to secure release of the requested documents. “All of the funds will be used only to pay the amounts demanded by the Legislature for the GRAMA requests,” said Ms. Hartman, “It’s really disturbing that Utah taxpayers have to pay for information from our government that should be provided for free.”
ULW was one of the first citizen groups to raise doubts about the Penna Powers materials that claim Utah’s tax system is outdated and must be reformed. “The information commissioned by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget was clearly not designed for a ‘listening tour,’” commented Hastings, “It is basically propaganda designed to convince Utah Citizens that Utah is facing an imminent fiscal crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Utah Legislative Watch is not alone in this opinion. On July 8, 2019, David Stringfellow, the Chief Economist of the State Auditor’s Office, in his role as a private citizen, publicly warned the Tax Reform Task Force that the Stronger Futures Utah information was faulty. Mr. Stringfellow, a respected and seasoned expert in Utah fiscal matters, explained that, contrary to the information being presented, Utah’s tax system already scales with population growth and a shift from purchase of goods to services was not the problem. Most notably, Mr. Stringfellow stated that “Utah’s fiscal house will not collapse in the near or far future. While the video is compelling, its main weakness is in that it’s wrong. It’s a bad forecast.”
Despite this warning, the Task Force continued to tour the State and present the questionable Penna Powers marketing materials to the public with no mention of any dissenting opinions.
ULW is also raising questions about the propriety of using Utah.gov, the official website of the State of Utah, to disseminate the Penna Powers information to the Utah public. “Using Utah’s official website to spread the Penna Powers materials gives the false impression that everyone in our State government agrees that Utah’s tax system is outdated. This simply isn’t true.” Hastings said.
ULW expects to confirm the cost of the Penna Powers materials once the requested documents are received from the Utah Legislature and Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. “I anticipate the cost will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Hastings. “This should be concerning to every Utah citizen since it appears that our tax dollars have been used to produce a one-sided message to convince us that our government needs to tax us more.”
ULW also hopes the GRAMA documents will shed light on how, and why, the Legislature and the Governor’s Office appear to have colluded in developing and presenting the one-sided Penna Powers materials during the Task Force’s listening tour of the State.