Governor Cox said free public transit would help Utahans struggling with high gas prices. Lawmakers aren’t so sure.

Utah House Majority Leader Mike Schultz said a tax cut would help more Utahns.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly press conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

Governor Spencer Cox and legislative leaders agree that inflation is a threat to the state’s economy. What the state can do to mitigate the effects of inflation is where they differ.

At his monthly KUED press conference, Cox said he’s discussed ways to mitigate the price hike for Utahns, but there isn’t much common ground to be found at this time. .

“I’m a big proponent of making public transit cheaper for people, making it free like we did in February,” Cox said.

The Utah Transit Authority’s “Free Fare February” resulted in a 16% increase in ridership on weekdays and 58% on Saturdays. Cox said reducing or eliminating tariffs would help Utahans fight high gas prices.

“There are a lot of people who don’t like $4.30 gas, but that’s not going to end our budgets. We can get out of this. But there are people who just can’t do that, and then they have to make a terrible decision,” Cox said.

Cox is struggling to convince the Republican-controlled legislature to agree to his transit fare plan. He described the reception as “lukewarm”.

“There’s not a lot of support for free or reduced fares on public transit,” says House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

“It would only benefit a handful of people,” he added.

Schultz says lawmakers haven’t seriously considered other ideas for curbing inflation. He says if lawmakers decide to take action to ease inflationary pressures, it should impact as many people as possible.

“If we were to do something for me, it should look more like a tax cut,” Schultz said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers increased the state income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.85%. That $200 million averages about $8 a month in relief for the average Utah family with an income of $70,000. Rising prices across the board eclipsed this meager decline. Food prices in Utah have risen 9.4% over the past year, while gasoline prices have jumped 44%.

Schultz isn’t the only one making noise about more tax breaks. Senate Speaker Stuart Adams, R-Layton, has repeatedly said he would like to see another tax cut in next year’s Parliament.

Any reduction in income tax is funded from revenues that are constitutionally earmarked for public and higher education. This year’s $200 million cut could have increased per-student funding in Utah public schools by 5%.

Cox did not address the tax relief Thursday, but said the state could do more to increase resources for more vulnerable Utahns. Cox says his office is investigating whether this is something they can do without calling the Legislative Assembly into session.

“We have the resources available in the budget right now where we can provide more food, more necessities to these food banks for people in need,” Cox said.

Melvin Z. Madore