Utah Legislative Watch Director, Brett W. Hastings, was honored to participate in a tax reform Round Table sponsored by Keep My Voice, a conservative organization founded to advocate for Utah’s historic caucus system. The panel included State Senator Curtis Bramble (R-Utah/Wasatch County), State Representative Robert Spendlove (R-Salt Lake County), and State Auditor John Dougal. Other panel members included Rusty Cannon, Vice President of the Utah Taxpayers Association, and tax attorney Spencer Evans. The parties appeared to come to a consensus that, although Utah’s tax system can be improved, Utah is not facing a tax crisis, and implementing a broad sales tax on services is risky, and the least desirable of all the potential ideas proposed to reform Utah’s tax system. Watch the full roundtable here.
Utah Legislative Watch is in the process of reviewing hundreds of pages of documents and communications requested from both the Legislative and Executive Branches of our State government. The information requests, filed under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”) were issued to reveal who commissioned and paid for the very one-sided propaganda materials presented by the Tax Reform Task Force. These materials suggest that Utah’s tax system is broken and must be fixed, an assertion not supported by Utah tax data.
Although a complete review has not yet been completed, one disturbing fact that has emerged is that the information was commissioned and paid for by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (Utah’s Executive Branch) and was then provided to the Legislative Tax Reform Task Force for dissemination across the State.
As more fully detailed in an article by the St. George News, Utah Legislative Watch is questioning why our Executive and Legislative branches of government colluded to produce a very one-sided, and misleading, message.
Collusion between our Executive and Legislative branches of government should be troubling to all Utahans. The three branches of government are are specifically designed to act as a check and balance on each other. They should not collude to spin a message to convince the public that a crisis exists, when one does not. Government and politics is an area of ideas. If data and messaging are manipulated, there can be no fair debate. Without a fair debate, only bad policy will follow.
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.
Ever since the very first meeting of the Tax Reform Task Force in Brigham City, Utah on June 25th, Utah Legislative Watch has been raising the alarm about misinformation and group-think being used to push a false message that Utah’s tax system is broken.
We aren’t the only one with 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. Stringfellow says the information being pushed by the Tax Reoform Task Force is “wrong” and “a bad forecast.” Link to Salt Lake Tribune article is provided below.
With only one “listening tour” town hall remaining for the Tax Reform Taskforce, the claim that Utah’s tax system is broken becomes more and more suspect.
Despite being charged with the task of “verifying the challenge,” our policymakers have used the town hall meetings, and Utah tax dollars, as a propaganda campaign to convince Utah citizens that Utah’s tax system is in peril and must be saved! The source of the propaganda campaign, marketed under the obviously leading moniker “strongerfutures.utah.gov,” is shrouded in mystery. Who commissioned it? Has the data presented in the campaign been vetted? How much did it cost? All legitimate questions, considering that no money was appropriated for use by the Task Force to produce the materials. ULW has been looking into these questions and has submitted several GRAMA requests in hopes of finding answers. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, lawmakers continue to peddle misinformation about Utah tax reform. Even after HB441, the so called “Tax Equalization and Reduction Act,” was exposed as a huge tax increase, lawmakers continue to claim the Bill would have reduced taxes. The only problem, the Bill’s fiscal note states that it was projected to INCREASE taxes by nearly $500M over two years.
The deplorable Washington D.C. style tactics and continued false statements associated with HB441, and the tax reform debate, have seriously harmed Utahan’s trust in our State government. A terrible fact our policy-makers seemingly dismiss or willfully ignore.
The Task Force propaganda campaign is misinformation based on bad data and bad forecasts, all funded by our tax dollars. This should concern, if not infuriate, every Utah citizen!
Over the past several weeks, the Tax Reform Taskforce has been touring the state claiming that Utah’s Tax system is broken and must be fixed. There’s just one problem, the claim is simply not true! The information being presented at the town hall meetings is misleading at best, and absolutely false, at worst. Utah tax collections are at all-time highs! We are collecting more tax in Utah that ever before, with all indications that this will continue. In fact, Utah had a $1.1 Billion surplus just last year! Utah is expecting hundreds of millions of dollars of new sales tax receipts from large online retailers such as Amazon.com. It’s not Utah’s tax system that is broken, it is Utah’s political system. Please contact your representatives and demand that they STOP the misinformation! Learn more in this OpEd published in the Salt Lake Tribune.