Awarding tax credits is nothing new. Many businesses receive tax credits as governments try to entice them to open a new branch, expand or move to a new location.
That's called economic development, or some might call it "picking winners and losers." In Utah, ordinary working families are too often the losers, even though they are also economic drivers. In fact, 70 percent of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer purchasing.
So, why not boost the purchasing power of low-income working families by giving them a tax credit, too?
That's the reasoning behind HB197, which allows low-income workers with dependents to file for a state Earned Income Tax Credit to help them offset the impact of sales, excise and property taxes they pay.
Under Utah's tax structure, low-income workers pay a bigger share of their income in taxes than wealthier taxpayers, about 9.4 percent for those making less then $20,000 a year, compared to 5 percent for those making at least $359,000 annually.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, is sponsoring HB197 to help his constituents, 22 percent of whom are eligible for the federal EITC, and the 190,000 other Utahns who work hard to support their families but do not earn enough to give their children the opportunities they deserve or to put money into savings.
The bill would allow Utahns who receive the federal EITC to file in Utah for an income-tax credit equal to 5 percent of the federal credit. That would give each working family an average of $109 for the year. The bill provides for a transfer from the state's general fund to cover losses to the education fund, which is tied to the income tax.
That doesn't seem like much, but it would help low-income workers participate in the 3-to-1 match savings accounts known as individual development accounts through the Utah Individual Development Account Network (www.uidan.org). That program lets participants leverage their EITC into real savings to help them and their children break the cycle of poverty.
More than 770 working Utah families have created IDAs since 2004. With professional volunteer counseling, low-income workers have adopted financial plans and eventually were able to purchase first homes, set up small businesses or pay for college or technical training.
The $20.5 million cost of the EITC would be returned to the state, some of it immediately as families spend it, and more as a return on investment in productive citizens.