The irony is that Utahns get more outraged about property taxes than any other tax. In truth, Utahns pay less in property taxes than the national average, and less than people in California, who have spent 30 years under Proposition 13 a tax-limiting measure some Utahns covet.
Another truth is that Utahns have the eighth-highest overall burden of taxes and fees in the nation. That is according to the latest figures from the Utah Taxpayers Association, which annually calculates the state's burden and measures it against all other states. Conventional wisdom says Utahns have a high tax burden because of the large numbers of children they must educate. To some extent, this is true. But a big part of the burden Utahns bear comes from fees, for everything from business licenses to drivers' licenses and college tuition.
Where is the outrage over these? Why are groups not hounding their lawmakers for reductions?
The answer is simple. Fees are like economic wallpaper. When brought face-to-face with them, few people think to question. The condition is much the same with utility and franchise taxes, which cities tack on to the ends of monthly bills everyone has to pay. Few, if any, question them.
The Taxpayers Association devotes a part of its latest newsletter to defending its decision to include fees in its calculation. The truth is, for many Utahns they aren't voluntary. They are a necessary part of doing business or getting ahead. But the most compelling reason the research group offers is that politicians often will try to make it appear as if they have either cut taxes or avoided tax increases by increasing fees, instead. Only by combining fees with taxes can you understand what a burden this has become.
The report offers some good news. Despite a growing tax burden as a percentage of personal income, Utah's rank actually has slipped, from fifth place in the previous report. Also, recent tax cuts enacted by the Legislature are bound to improve that ranking in the future.
But without the fees, Utah ranks 20th in tax burden. It ranks 15th in individual income taxes, again because of public education costs.
The property tax burden, however, ranks 38th. That means a lot of people annually waste good energy going after the wrong targets.