Lawmakers: Utah tax overhaul to be repealed amid opposition

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A contentious tax-overhaul in Utah will be repealed amid growing voter backlash to the plan that would raise taxes on food and groceries while cutting income tax, Republican legislative leaders said Thursday.

The repeal was announced after an effort to challenge it through a citizen referendum appeared to have succeeded in getting a spot on the November ballot, the Deseret News reported.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters during his regular monthly news conference on PBS Utah that an overhaul is still needed, but lawmakers will likely wait to take up the issue until next year. The legislative session begins Monday.

“I think we’re accommodating the will of the people,” Herbert said about the repeal. “The fact that we have push back means we have not done our job as far as convincing the people this is the right thing to do or the right way to do it.”

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson issued a joint statement committing to a repeal and “getting our tax policy right.”

They said they hope to get a repeal signed into law within the first week of the legislative session, so lawmakers can create a budget without the “uncertainty of a referendum.”

The organizer of the referendum effort, former Republican state lawmaker Fred Cox, said he was glad that leaders appear to be listening, but his group is still pushing ahead until a full repeal is signed by the governor.

His group said it had collected more than enough signatures to secure a spot on the ballot, but those signatures must be still verified by elections officials.

The plan would have cut income taxes and raised sales taxes on food, gas and some services in an effort to bolster a shrinking sales tax base.

Opponents had worried about the effect on low-income people and questioned whether tax rebates created for them would be enough to offset the impact.

The referendum effort gained steam as grocery stores got on board and allowed signature collecting at their stores.

Several candidates for governor, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, opposed the plan.

Herbert is not running again in 2020.