Nearly three-fourths of Utahns want a tax cut this year from the Legislature, and 80 percent favor the tax reduction that legislators are most likely to give, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a survey conducted this past week that 70 percent of Utahns want a tax cut.

Only 23 percent said they didn't want a tax cut from the 2008 Legislature.

And eight out of 10 Utahns said they strongly or somewhat favor giving a 5 percent income tax cut to self-employed, self-insured Utahns who now don't get that tax break.

As a part of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s "health-care reform" efforts this year, there are two bills that would allow self-employed Utahns to pay for their health insurance in "pretax" dollars — as can all workers who get their health insurance through their employers.

Bills sponsored by Reps. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, and Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, would both give self-employed workers that $18 million tax break — which could equal tax cuts of between $150 and $500 a year for more than 70,000 taxpayers. "It's a matter of fairness," says Dunnigan.

The Morning News also asked Utahns if they favored several other possible tax breaks and what they thought of two suggested tax increases now before the Legislature.

But after Jones was in the field interviewing the 412 Utahns who made up his sample (which has a margin of error plus or minus 5 percent), some of those bills fell out of favor as the House and Senate GOP caucuses and Huntsman worked out the $13 billion budget for next year.

For example, early in the session it appeared that the most popular tax cut proposal among legislators was a $13 million property tax reduction associated with the state taking over all funding of a popular elementary reading program. Jones found that 78 percent of Utahns want that property tax cut.

But even though a number of Utahns saw significant increases in their home property taxes last November, legislative leaders and Huntsman have backed away from that tax cut in favor of the health-care reform measure.

House Republicans thought they could get a $100 million tax reduction — most of it in property tax — when December tax revenue growth estimates were so high. But last Monday updated tax projections actually came in lower. And now GOP leaders are talking about a smaller tax cut — perhaps $18 million for health-care reform.

Utahns have always hated the sales tax on unprepared food. And even though another round of food tax cuts was proposed this year, that bill has already been amended to remove the tax cut. Still, 80 percent of Utahns want the food tax further reduced (it is now 3 percent statewide).

Huntsman, who like all House members and half of the Senate is running for re-election this year, says should he win a second term, he will again push to remove all of the sales tax from food. He believes he can get that accomplished by the end of a second term in 2012.

Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in the Utah House and Senate, and Jones found that 78 percent of Republicans favor a tax cut of some kind. And 87 percent of Republicans like the pretax credit for those who are self-employed or otherwise don't qualify for the current employer discount. So a GOP vote in favor of either Clark's or Dunnigan's bills is an easy call.

"The governor believes the tax credit part (of general health care reform) is a great step forward in providing an affordable option in health care," said Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley. Huntsman supports either measure.

Most Utahns don't smoke or chew tobacco — practices banned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members make up more than 60 percent of the populace.

Jones found that 72 percent of Utahns favor raising the per-pack cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack — the money being used to battle smoking cessation programs and anti-teen smoking programs. But a bill to do that has run into trouble in the House, with a number of representatives saying that with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax surpluses, this is not the year to raise any taxes.

And don't even talk about raising the state's per-gallon gasoline tax.

Jones found that 77 percent of Utahns oppose a bill that would raise the gasoline tax automatically every two years by tying it to the cost-of-living/inflation increases in the general economy.

Utah has not raised its gasoline tax in a decade. And as newer cars and trucks come online, which get better gas mileage, the state gasoline tax take does not keep up with inflation in the road construction and repair sector.

The Utah Department of Transportation is about to embark on a new round of major reconstruction of I-15, this time in Utah County, which will cost billions of dollars the state does not now have.

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