The holiday season (President Trump prefers that we say “Christmas season”) is officially upon us. Americans are in a mad dash to complete shopping and work projects before relaxing. Politicians are also scrambling at year’s end. We explore some of the action.
A UtahPolicy.com poll showed 53 percent of Utahns agree with the Republican spin on federal tax reform (make the tax system simpler, fairer and help the middle class), while 34 percent agree with the Democratic spin (GOP reform will mostly benefit the rich and well-connected). This disparity is reflected across the country. Will Congress get any tax reform passed by the new year, or ever?
Pignanelli: “No one feels undertaxed. Tax reform is an important issue, and there must be an inherent sense of fairness.” — Stephen A. Schwarzman
The politics of comprehensive tax reform are similar to the politics of a successful Thanksgiving dinner in 21st-century America (especially in my family). In addition to the traditional fare (turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc.) modern side dishes are now required (i.e. organic, gluten-free, dairy free, non-GMO, Vegan, etc.). There has to be something for everyone or else.
The proposals contain some important items (simplification, lower rates, potential child credit, ending regressive state tax deductions), but others are typical D.C. frustrations. In one version, corporate tax breaks are permanent, but middle-income earners could lose their reduction in 10 years because of the “Byrd Rule.” The Senate adopted this years ago to prevent deficits, but $20 trillion of debt document the failure of such well-intended measures. Also, millions of Americans providing services through pass-through corporations provide jobs and resources to their communities that cannot be excluded from the tax-reform dinner.
Menu advice to Congress: Americans don't care about the Byrd Rule, so carve it out. Big companies can get a large serving of the tax-reform meal, but everyone else deserves to feast. Otherwise, there'll be a huge food fight — a big mess with no winners.
Webb: Republicans will pass tax reform because failure would be a political disaster — bigger than their failure to repeal Obamacare. They’ll make a lot of concessions to attract needed votes and reconcile House/Senate differences, but they’ll push it through. Failure is not an option. When it does pass, the apocalypse predicted by Democrats and leftist groups won’t occur, and they will look foolish. The already-strong economy will flourish, and give Republicans a boost in 2018.
President Trump will swoop into Salt Lake City on Monday. Will he leave behind downsized national monuments?
Pignanelli: The president will announce on Monday the reduction of at least two national monuments (Bears Ears, Grand Staircase) and possibly others. This alone will generate huge emotional outbursts — on both sides of the issue.
But the biggest question is what else the president says once on the tarmac. He will have been trapped in Air Force One for hours and eager to tweet and speak on whatever has grabbed his attention. It is anyone’s guess what will dominate the news from Utah.
Webb: Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante will be mere shadows of their former selves — but still plenty big. The sensitive, spectacular parts (still enormous acreage) of these natural treasures will remain national monuments and, perhaps, will someday become national parks. Environmental and leftist groups will throw tantrums. No one else will notice. I’ve hiked those areas and, believe me, it’s really big country.
Watch for a fascinating sideshow: Will Trump tell Utahns that he desperately needs Orrin Hatch back in Washington, giving Hatch more justification to seek re-election in 2018?
Last week, Utah lawmakers discussed a serious proposal to eliminate the Utah Transit Authority board of directors and replace it with a three-member commission appointed by the governor. Should this happen and why?
Pignanelli: UTA is the classic dichotomy: an award-winning efficient system with great employees that is sadly saddled with massive PR problems and debt issues. So, state lawmakers demanding changes is a natural, and needed, reaction. But local governments are the conduits of financing for the transit system and need to be included in policy decisions. Expect more deliberations.
Webb: UTA has had its problems, but compared to many transit agencies across the country, UTA is today a model of good management, efficiency and smooth operations. The subway systems in New York City and Washington, D.C., are literally falling apart, needing multi-billion-dollar infusions to keep them running. UTA’s performance is especially good considering it operates with less taxpayer funding than its peers in other Western metro areas.
Under new leadership and with former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell as new board chairman, UTA has turned a corner. The Legislature should give UTA a couple of years to prove itself before making dramatic changes in governance. However, I fully agree that if the state provides money for transit projects from state transportation accounts, the state needs oversight and accountability over that money. That could be easily done without a complete overhaul of governance.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: [email protected] Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: [email protected]