This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utahns are proud of their state – and justifiably so. Forbes and CNBC regularly name ours as the top state for business. Our small-government approach extends opportunity even to the least fortunate: A 2014 study by economists at Harvard and UC-Berkeley found that Salt Lake City has the highest rate of upward income mobility in the nation. This led a Bloomberg columnist to investigate "how Utah keeps the American Dream alive."
Despite our achievements, however, there remains one area where we can do even better: cutting government waste.
Americans for Prosperity-Utah believes taxpayers should be informed about how the government spends our hard-earned money. So, we delved through the latest state budget to find some of the most egregious examples of waste and compiled them in our new 2017 Utah Waste Book.
What we found was nearly $50 million squandered on pet projects, special interest handouts and other boondoggles.
Take, for instance, $3 million allocated to the Motion Picture Incentive Fund, which provides generous tax credits to filmmakers who shoot in Utah. Backers of the program claim it pays for itself by attracting economic activity to the state. Does it?
The Tax Foundation surveyed the literature on film tax credits and found that such programs usually bring in less than 30 cents in revenue for every taxpayer dollar spent. Moreover, the new jobs they create are usually low-paid, temporary and result in job losses in other sectors of the economy.
Hollywood studios don't need our charity, and we're fools to offer it.
Likewise, there's no need for our state to spend $6 million per year on tourism marketing. As a rule, governments do not make great public relations firms, and shooting commercials is hardly their comparative advantage or core responsibility.
Tourism does bring economic benefits to Utah, and we all want people to know about our majestic national parks and charming ski slopes. But Lonely Planet's travel guides are likely to do a better job of promoting these attractions than state bureaucrats.
Besides tax credits and marketing, we found a host of smaller projects that should have no claim on taxpayer dollars. Utah will give $200,000 to the Rocky Mountain Golden Gloves to host amateur boxing tournaments and $100,000 to the Odyssey Dance Company, whose most popular show is the Michael Jackson-inspired "Thriller." These may or may not be worthy causes, but they should be funded by private organizations and individuals who find value in them.
Given all the waste on the books, you may be surprised to learn that some believe we are not taxed enough. A 2018 ballot initiative by a group of wealthy business owners in Utah would raise both the personal income tax and the sales tax by about 10 percent each, phased in over three years. By 2021, the average Utah household would face $416 in additional taxes.
The objective is to raise $700 million for public schools, but it's not clear how that will improve student performance. U.S. News & World Report ranks Utah higher than both New York and Alaska in education, even though the latter two states spend over three times more per public school pupil, according to the most recent census data.
While the benefits of this tax are uncertain, the downsides are not. A tax hike would blow a hole in Utah's business-friendly reputation, driving away investment and jobs. And ordinary Utahns would be left with less of their income to spend on pricier necessities.
Before we even think about increasing the burden on hardworking Utah taxpayers, we should eliminate waste and use our existing revenue more efficiently. Utah is a national model for achieving more while spending less, and there's no reason to turn our back on that now.
Evelyn Everton is the Utah state director of Americans for Prosperity.