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Utah governor signs contentious, sweeping tax overhaul

December 19, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2018, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah governor Gary Herbert has signed a sweeping overhaul of the state's tax system that lowers income tax while increasing taxes on food, fuel and several services. The Salt Lake Tribune reports Herbert defended the bill that cuts taxes by a net total of $160 million during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2018, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah governor Gary Herbert has signed a sweeping overhaul of the state's tax system that lowers income tax while increasing taxes on food, fuel and several services. The Salt Lake Tribune reports Herbert defended the bill that cuts taxes by a net total of $160 million during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Utah governor Gary Herbert on Thursday signed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s tax system that lowers income tax while increasing taxes on food, fuel and several services.

Herbert defended the measure that cuts taxes by a net total of $160 million during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah.

It’s been criticized for raising taxes on groceries while benefiting wealthier residents, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. All of the declared GOP candidates for the 2020 governor’s race have announced opposition to the plan, and efforts have begun to overturn it through a citizen referendum.

Herbert said that lower-income people will get tax breaks, including preemptive checks from the state worth up to $200 to balance out the effect of higher grocery taxes. People who make more money pay more in taxes, so the relief they’ll get is justified, Herbert said.

Herbert had pushed for what he called tax reform to fix a shrinking tax base and applauded lawmakers for passing the bill.

“I’m sure they’d rather take a beating than have to go through this process, but they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons,” he said.

He said it would be unfortunate if a referendum makes the November ballot because it would delay tax breaks from going into effect.

Herbert took questions from reporters the day after the U.S. House voted to impeach President Donald Trump and said he was disheartened by partisanship during the process.

The Utah governor said he doesn’t always approve of Trump’s behavior and he wouldn’t want his children to emulate it.

“But you can be a jerk,” Herbert said, “but that doesn’t mean you should be impeached.”