Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interim executive director appointed

Utah State Tax Commissioners appointed Barry C. Conover interim executive director of the agency Tuesday.

Mr. Conover, 63, has served as deputy executive director for 23 years. He fills the position left vacant at the death of Rodney G. Marrelli. The appointment is for up to three months.

“I appreciate the confidence of the Commissioners and look forward to this opportunity,” Mr. Conover said.

Mr. Conover holds a bachelor’s of science degree in Sociology from Brigham Young University and has served in a variety of leadership positions with Tax Commission since 1973. He has been lauded for his success the past five years as the project leader of the modernization of the Commission’s major tax systems.

"We appreciate Barry's service, devotion and assistance to Rod Marrelli and to the Tax Commission during the last few years,” said Commission Chair R. Bruce Johnson. “We are confident that Barry will uphold the high ideals Rod personified."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Our friend and leader passes away

Tax Commission employees lost a great friend and colleague Saturday with the passing of Rodney G. Marrelli, our executive director.

The citizens of Utah lost a dedicated public servant whose integrity was beyond reproach and a leader who kept the best interest of the taxpayer at the forefront of every decision he made.

Rod served diligently for nearly 17 nears in a position that requires a sharp intellect, broad vision, skillfull communication and strong management.

The strides Utah made under his leadership in the areas of modernizing the State's computer tax systems and online options are recognized nationally.

Within a few days of Rod's death, our Commission Chair Bruce Johnson received condolenses from state tax leaders throughout the United States.

Rod will be remembered by the 750 employees at the Tax Commission for his strong leadership, broad vision, clear communication and witty sense of humor.

Rod was appointed by Gov. Michael O. Leavitt in 1994 when the Internet was in its infancy, personal computers a luxury and "brick" cell phones were coveted.

In the Salt Lake Tribune, Gov. Leavitt said, "Rod's policy legacy will be his emphasis of compliance over enfrocement, his protection of "Main Street" retailers and fairness through sales tax simplification and his more than decade-long effort to modernize the state's outdated computer systems."

I admired Rod's diligence in keeping his nose to grind while battling cancer and all its ugly components without ever mumbling a negative word. Even during the final months of his life, Rod placed his public trust above his personal comfort.

"Do it right the first time" was more than a goal on an employee poster, it was a creed emblazoned in Rod's daily work ethic.

We will miss you, Rod.

Peace, love and all that Jazz,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beer bucks and such

The Tax Commission makes its annual distribution in December from the alcoholic beverage enforcement and treatment account.
This is a 'restricted' account that generated $5.6 million last year from the sale of beer within the friendly confines of the Beehive State.
The Legislature specifies the monies must be used for promoting the harmful effects of over consumption, reduction in underage drinking, and related areas.
The law allows funds to be use for confinement and treatment where alcohol is a contributing factor in the crime.
The dollars are distributed to cities, towns and counties is determined by these four factors:
1) Local population
2) Convictions for alcohol-related offenses
3) Liquor and beer licenses and outlets, and
4) County population
The data comes from a variety of federal and state sources and the Tax Commission computes the math for distribution to the local governments.

In other taxing matters . . .
  • South Salt City's combined sales tax rate will change to 7.05 percent on Jan. 1. The City imposed the city option sales tx at a rate of .20 percent.
  • Sevier County will increase its transient room tax rate for 3.0 to 4.25 percent.
  • Filmore has imposed the 1 percent municipalilty transient room tax option. On New Years Day the transient room tax rate for our first territorial capital city will be 4 percent.

Peace, love and all that Jazz,


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Other states have quirky tax laws too

Last week a Utah tax grabbed local headlines - not because of its impact, but because of its quirkiness.

The topic of interest was sexually explicit businesses, also known as S.E.B.'s, which sounds better in a public setting than S.O.B.'s (sexually oriented businesses).

Here's the Reader's Digest version: In 2004, the Legislature passed a 10 percent tax on admission and sales of merchandise, food, drink and services for sexually explicit businesses. The Tax Commission determined that escort services did not qualify as S.E.B.s because of the broad language in the law. The Utah Supreme Court upheld the Tax Commission decision and then the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing the Utah case.

Currently, the law impacts only one Utah business.

Here's a sampling that financial expert Casey Bond posted in a gobankingrates.com column of strange taxes and deductions scatttered throughout the U.S. of A.

- Electrolysis treatments, tattoos and body piercings are taxed an additional 10 percent sales tax in Arkansas.

- Pet owners in Durham County, North Carolina must list pets as personal property and pay taxes on them. If Fluffy is fixed it's 10 bucks; otherwise $75 to tax collector.

- Clothing retailers in Minnesota pay a 6.5 percent tax for goods comprised of three times more fur than the next most valuable materal used to make it.

- Alabama charges 10 cent tax on any pack of cards that contains 54 or fewer in the deck. The seller must pay another buck and an annual license tax of $3.

- In addition to all the other costs for civil and criminal litigation, Tennessee charges a tax of $25 per court case.

- Alaska whaling boat captains can write off 10 Grand for anything they spend on boat repar and other whaling expenses.

I'm just a little disappointed that Utah's brine shrimp tax missed the list.

Peace, love and all that Jazz. Charlie

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tax workers 'Clear the Air'

Your friendly public servants here at the Tax Commission will be basking in Clear the Air glory come Saturday morning.
We, like 351 other agencies and companies, participated in the statewide Clear the Air campaign. Clear the Air is the only issue - other than Mother’s Day and apple pie - that Gov. Herbert, Mayor Corroon and Mayor Becker agree.
But when Mayor Becker issued the Clear the Air Challenge earlier this summer, all three were in the same ship. They encouraged their employees and people across the Beehive State to join the fun.
Throughout July a competition was held to reduce vehicle emissions by choosing walking, biking, taking public transportation, riding in a car pool and stringing errand trips together.
Nearly 90 Tax Commission employees participated in the event and recorded trips saved. Here’s our final tally:
Miles saved - 48,762 (That’s twice around the earth)
Trips saved - 3,393 (A weekly trip to the grocery store for 65 years)
Pounds of emissions eliminated - 81,720 (The weight of 9 average African elephants)
Dollars saved - $27,354 (Should cover this year’s Christmas bonus)
Gallons of gas saved - 2,212 (At 3 bucks a gallon, who’s complaining?)
At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday we will receive the team award for “Best Integration of TravelWise Strategies.” I’m unsure what the exactly means, but it sounds impressive. Hopefully we have done our small part to improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and conserve energy in Utah.
Peace, love and all that Jazz, Charlie

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

You may quote these guys

Here are some of my favorite tax quotes to cheer you up as you approach the April 15 deadline.

The fine art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing. ~Jean Baptist Colbert, Louis XIV finance minister

Taxation with representation ain't so hot either. ~Gerald Barzan

I'm proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money. ~Arthur Godfrey

The United States has a system of taxation by confession. ~Hugo Black

Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you thirty cents? ~Peg Bracken

Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors... and miss. ~Robert Heinlein

If the Lord loveth a cheerful giver, how he must hate the taxpayer! ~John Andrew Holmes

People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women. ~Author Unknown

It's income tax time again, Americans: time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta. ~Dave Barry

Philosophy teaches a man that he can't take it with him; taxes teach him he can't leave it behind either. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. ~Ronald Reagan

I shall never use profanity except in discussing house rent and taxes. ~Mark Twain

Our tax code is so long it makes War and Peace seem breezy. ~Steven LaTourette

Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund. ~F.J. Raymond

The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government. ~Barry Goldwater

What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin. ~Mark Twain, Notebook, 1902

Peace, love and all that Jazz. Charlie

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just the car facts, Ma'am. Just the facts.

Few realize that two separate police agencies are nestled under the roof of the Utah State Tax Commission: the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division and the Criminal Investigation Unit.

These police officers are P.O.S.T. certified, carry badges and pack weapons.

Today, we'll take a quick look at the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division. MVED officers protect citizens from motor vehicle commerce fraud by regulating the car sales industry.

As far as I know the used and new car sales business is the only Utah industry that has its very own police force. And who says you can't trust a car salesman?

In the news media MVED officers have been misidentified as DMV police, state investigators and my personal favorite . . . "state motor fleet officers."

These officers chase down stolen vehicles and the myriad of associated crimes. They are settled in for Easter weekend at the Little Sahara Sand Dunes in Juab County. They focus on citing those with unregistered ATVs and trailers--and there is a good chance they cross a handful of stolen vehicles.

MVED issues licenses to sales people and dealerships. In Utah, there are 4,805 licensed car sales people and 2,675 registered dealerships.

Police throughout the state recognize MVED officers as experts in auto theft and other vehicle-related crimes, i.e., odometer fraud, chop shops, title fraud and vehicle theft rings.

Last year, they recovered nearly 600 stolen vehicles valued at $5.2 million. They also filed 595 criminal counts, impounded 375 vehicles, issued 2,926 registrations and other citations and received 3,268 formal complaints.

Like Dragnet's Joe Friday, for the most part our MVED officers are looking for "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."

Peace, love and all that Jazz, Charlie

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tax Commission pushes electronic filing

Taxpayers who file state income tax returns online will receive their refunds much quicker than those who send in paper returns.

If you file electronically, you can plan on receiving your refund in a matter of weeks. Those who file by paper may wait several months to receive their refund. Electronic returns are processed faster because of the need for less manual intervention.

About 414,000 people in Utah filed their state income taxes by paper last year. We hope a significant number of those will file electronically this year so they can receive their refunds sooner.

Because of budget reductions fewer temporary workers are being hired by the Tax Commission. This is the main reason for the delay in paper filers receiving their refunds later.

The downturn in the economy forces us to hire fewer temporary workers this tax season. Their focus will be in processing online income tax refunds.

There are three electronic options available to Utah taxpayers:
1) Filing a joint electronic return with the federal income tax
2) Purchasing a commercial tax preparation software package or
3) Filing for free on the web at taxexpress.utah.gov.

In 2009, 65.3 percent filed state income tax returns electronically of the more than 1.2 million returns.

Each year we see a steady increase in the percentage of taxpayers filing electronically. This year we hope to see a major jump.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This annual report has a little spark

Few topics draw elongated yawns faster than "annual report." Although "revised policy" and "staff meeting" are worthy runner-ups.

While you may not keep the Utah State Tax Commission FY2009 annual report by your bedside, there is a boatload of information tucked away in the publication's 65 pages. This is especially true if you are . . .
  • an elected official
  • a tax policy wonk
  • a snoopy reporter
  • a number crunching public employee or
  • 'Joe Bag of Donuts' wondering what in the world happens to all your state and local taxes

The report's bottom line reflects national and local economies. The total net revenues collected by the Tax Commission fell 10.5 percent in the past year, a total of $800 million.

And what does that mean to Mr. and Ms. Average Utah? Fewer police officers, more kids in crowded class rooms, snow plows coming later than last year, larger potholes and longer wait times for basic public services.

If you peer closely you can see that Tax Commission employees are working harder and smarter with fewer resources. Here are a handful of examples:

  • The tax appeals staff has processed more than twice as many appeals this year than two years ago with the same size staff.
  • Our 24 certified Motor Vehicle Enforcement police officers recovered 597 vehicles last year. That's nearly a dozen vehicles each week.
  • The average wait time for customers in DMV lines is less than 7 minutes. Just five years ago it was nearly twice that long.
  • You probably received your state income tax refund back last year in fewer than 15 days after you clicked the send button.
  • The number of people registering their vehicles at one of our "On the Spot" jumped dramatically to nearly 400,000 last year.

There is also plenty of other information including a ready reference summary of major legislative changes, what income groups are paying the bulk of state taxes and how much sales tax revenue every dot on the map from Randolph to Blanding received.

For your reading your pleasure, you can find the Tax Commission annual report at http://tax.utah.gov/research/reports/fy09report.pdf. Cuddle up with it and enjoy.

Peace, love and all that jazz,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Long lines? That's the other guys, NOT DMV

For the past several weeks, Utahns have been reading headlines and hearing news reports that DMV lines are getting longer and longer and longer.

Well, as the Hertz ads say, "Not exactly."

The long lines are at Driver License Division NOT the DMV.

Now that may sound like a technical bureaucratic response coming from a chubby state government worker. That's true, but there is more to the story.

The DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) is a division of the Tax Commission in the business of registering motor vehicles. The Driver License Division is under the umbrella of Public Safety, which is also the home of our Highway Patrol officers.

Please remember
  • License plates = DMV
  • Driver licenses = Public Safety
I spent 11+ years of my life attempting to grab the attention of newspaper readers by writing short, crisp, accurate headlines. Thanks to Seinfield and three generations of jocularity "DMV" not only grabs readers' and listeners' attention, but fits better in headlines and rolls off reporters' tongues smoother than "Utah Driver License Division."

However when the media refers to the Driver License Division as the DMV it adds to the confusion. It contributes to the very problem the media addresses by sending people to the wrong office.

As a shallow attempt of compassion, my heart goes out to the people at Driver License Division - especially those clerks on the front lines who deal with frustrated citizens. It is extremely challenging to go back 10-plus years in time where citizens can no longer renew their driver license online or by mail.

But that's a different blog, for a different time, from by a different state agency.

Peace, love and all that jazz,

Monday, February 8, 2010

So that's where all those school districts evolved

Few public officials have reason to sweat more during the Legislative session than Larry Shumway. By his nature, Dr. Shumway reflects a cool, calm and collected human being.

However, as superintendent of Utah's public school system, during 45-days from late January to mid-March tiny beads of sweat can form above his brow."Little budget tweaks" can have drastic impacts on Dr. Shumways' employees and more importantly on the people he serves: our school children.

As guest speaker at an American Society of Public Administrators chapter meeting last week, Superintendent Shumway addressed the unique education challenges we face in Utah. We strive to improve education excellence among a growing school children population with dwindling revenue resources.

It is similar to improving your family's lifestyle while adopting more children and having your hours reduced at work. It's difficult to make the math work.

At one point Dr. Shumway stepped away from the heart of the discussion and provided a historical perspective of the creation of Utah's 40 school districts. This proved intriguing to me because in my highway travels I often wonder why does rural Summit County have three times as many districts as heavily populated Davis County. And how in the world did itsy, bitsy Eureka (total population of 766 women, men and children) get its very own district?

He noted that three factors contributed to the present day district boundaries. It dates back to 1910 when the state consolidated hundreds of districts that were scattered throughout the state.
  1. County boundaries - This includes Morgan, Tooele, Box Elder, Washington and others.
  2. Cities of the first-class - There are handful of "cities of the first-class" today; however, 248 Utah mayors argue that they all live in first-class cities. But in 1910, Logan, Murray, Provo as well as mining boom towns Park City and Eureka were all cities of the first-class. As a result we have the Tintic School District which educates children from Eureka and a few eastern Juab County communities.
  3. LDS Stake boundaries - Not that Utah lawmakers have ever stepped over the church-state line in our 114-year history, but the predominant religion did influence decision makers a century ago. School districts such as Alpine, Granite, Jordan, North Sanpete, South Sanpete were organized along the LDS stake boundary lines .

I'm unsure what all this has to do with price of taxes in China Meadows. But I thought you might be interested in Dr. Shumway's insight.

Peace, love and all that jazz,