SALT LAKE CITY -- Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, has come under fire for attacking bills that would give any deployed military personnel a break on their property taxes.
"And now you're forcing me, your bleeding heart is saying, 'OK, Senator Jenkins, we want you now to pay for their taxes,' " Jenkins said during floor debate Wednesday.
The bills in question are Senate Joint Resolution 8 and Senate Bill 116, both sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City.
Both bills were approved Wednesday by the Senate on identical 24-4 votes, with one absence. They now go to the House for further consideration.
If the resolution passes, voters in November will decide if the state's Constitution will include an exemption so active military reservists or full-time military who are deployed won't have to pay property taxes.
Jenkins said those in the military volunteered to serve and are aware of the hardships they and their families will endure.
He said he supports the military 100 percent but asking residents to pay extra to cover exempt military members' property taxes "is too much."
Retired Maj. Gen. Peter S. Cooke, the Utah Democratic candidate for governor, issued a news release Wednesday afternoon calling on Gov. Gary Herbert, as commander-in-chief of the Utah National Guard, to denounce Jenkins' remarks, calling them "a shocking diatribe ... against Utah's soldiers."
Under provisions of SB 116, any active military personnel whose primary residence is in Utah and who is deployed to an area, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, for 200 days consecutively or 200 days within a calendar year can apply to be exempt from paying property taxes for that year.
"Most of those deployed serve at least six months," Robles said.
She said the nation's military has changed and that those who volunteer in the reserves end up doing several tours of duty.
In Utah, the majority of those individuals are the primary or sole income earners for their families.
Along with the joint resolution, SB 116 would not go into effect until voters decide on the issue in November.
According to the bill's fiscal note, approximately 1,600 active military, full-time and reservists could apply and receive an estimated $2.2 million property tax reduction.
About 900,000 property owners would see tax increases, $1 for the owner of a $250,000 home or $7.68 per $1 million business.
Jenkins said Utah already gives those in the military and reserves "lots and lots and lots of advantages," including tuition to attend the state's universities.
Jenkins said Wednesday afternoon that, despite the criticism, he stands by the statements he made on the floor.
"I don't want to pay my own property taxes," he said. "They're too high. I don't want to pay (the military's) property taxes."
Jenkins said the proposal will erode Utah's tax base and increase the tax rate if it passes.
Cooke said in his news release that Jenkins talks as if soldiers are "gaming the system."
He said Utahns should do whatever they can to help deployed soldiers and their families.