SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Buckingham has owned a small, family cabinet shop on the west side of Salt Lake City for 22 years.
At its height in 2007, the business employed 33, grossed $2.7 million in sales and paid $1,800 in unemployment insurance tax. Now, he's got 10 workers, sold about $700,000 last year, and is on track this year to pay $19,000 in unemployment tax.
On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert used Buckingham's modest shop as a backdrop to sign into law SB129, which lowers the state's maximum unemployment insurance tax rate that businesses pay, from 9.4 percent to 7.4 percent.
"It is going to benefit all 85,000 businesses in Utah across the board," Herbert said. "It helps them have more money they can keep … to grow their business."
SB129 passed the House and Senate unanimously. It takes effect immediately.
The lower rate will save Buckingham about $2,000 a year, he figures.
"It will (help)," he said. "I hope we get some more. It won't save us, but it will help."
But to hire more workers, Buckingham said he needs orders to pick up. The shop builds cabinets for about one home a week. In better times, workers built for one home a day.
Herbert said the state can cut the unemployment tax rate because Utah, with 6 percent unemployment — 2.3 percent below the national rate — is the best in the nation at getting people back to work, and its unemployment trust fund is well-managed.
Struggling to hold back emotion before the crowd of state officials and community leaders, Buckingham said laying off workers was one of the hardest things he's had to do.
"This caused me a great deal of sadness," he said. "I hated the thought of having to take away another man's income."