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House votes down bill to save severance tax revenue

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House voted down a measure Monday to save the state's severance tax revenue in a trust account rather than spend it as part of the general fund.

"The question is, 'Are our needs today more important than the needs of our children and grandchildren?'" said Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, sponsor of HB210.

The House downed the bill 39-36, with many Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

Nielson's proposal would have phased in about $96 million a year going into reserve accounts, including $20 million in the upcoming budget. The state collects about that amount annually from taxes placed on oil, gas and mineral extracted from the ground.

Those opposed to the bill said even though Utah is doing better economically, this isn't the time to take money from the general fund that pays for things such as roads, social services and higher education.

"Now is not the time to bind ourselves or future legislatures by removing this funding from the critical needs we currently have," said Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake. "I am not going to make my kid skip a meal today or go hungry so we can save for tomorrow."

Nielson said he knows times aren't great, but the state can't continue to spend without putting money away if the economy worsens again.

"What if today is as good as it gets?" he asked. "What if these are the good times?"

Had the state saved the revenue since imposing the tax in the 1930s, it would have about $1.4 billion in the fund, Nielson said. The fund currently contains about $100 million.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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