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Utah legislative session begins; taxes, housing, more on the agenda

By Tim Vandenack - | Jan 18, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

The Utah State Capitol stands after the first day of the legislative session Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s lawmakers officially launch the 2022 legislative session on Tuesday.

Get ready for a whirlwind 45-day ride as legislators likely debate things like taxes, housing affordability, water conservation and education spending.

Senate President Stuart Adams, a Layton Republican, tweeted last week that taxes — more specifically, reducing them — would be a likely focus.

“Last year, I said 2021 would be the year of the tax cut & I’m happy to announce 2022 will be the year of an even larger tax cut. Utah is in a strong financial position, enabling #utleg to reduce taxes for Utahns,” he tweeted.

In that vein, Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser, an Ogden Democrat, has introduced a measure, as promised, to largely do away with the 1.75% state sales tax on groceries, House Bill 165. She, like many, says it’s unfair because it hits lower-income Utahns the hardest given the amount they typically spend on food, sometimes a third or more of their income.

A session preview released last week by Utah House Republicans, “The Utah Way Forward,” singles out water conservation, access to affordable housing and education as key issues for 2022, offering broad objectives in each area.

On housing, a red-hot topic all along the Wasatch Front, the document calls for aligning economic development incentives offered to the private sector with housing needs. Current policies, it reads, “incentivize retail over residential houses, exacerbating the housing-supply issue.”

As is, the median home sales price in Utah totaled $455,000 in 2021, the document noted, with a cumulative shortage of housing units of more than 40,000.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns, or ULCT, noted a meeting last week on affordable housing involving reps from the organization and lawmakers, including Rep. Steve Waldrip, a Republican from the Eden area. Allowing denser development like apartments and town homes to augment the stock of affordable housing is a fix some put forward, but such proposals can draw fire in some locales and Waldrip, who’s put a big focus on creating affordable housing stock, broached the topic.

Waldrip “suggested providing ‘political cover’ to local leaders to approve more residential density, particularly near state transportation corridors. He also explained the need to engage in a meaningful way with residents about growth,” the ULCT said in its weekly newsletter last Friday.

As for specifics, the only measure put forward by Waldrip so far is House Bill 36, making the Housing Affordability Subcommittee a permanent subcommittee so the issue can get continued focus.

Utah Rep. Ryan Wilcox, an Ogden Republican, has put forward a measure creating a grant program to provide resources for first responders to help them deal with mental health issues, mindful of the stressful situations such workers face. Among other things, the proposal, House Bill 23, would require first responder agencies like police and fire departments to make confidential mental health resources available to all employees.

Many other bills have been put forward by Weber County’s legislative contingent and more will undoubtedly emerge as the session gets underway. The 2022 legislative session ends March 4.

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