ELECTION 2015: Utah cities push for more transportation money

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/12/2015

Voters throughout the state of Utah could get to decide this fall whether to raise taxes to help pay for local transportation needs.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law early this year to raise the state’s 24.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate by 5 cents to 29.5 cents on Jan. 1, 2016. Automatic inflation-indexed increases will follow.

The new revenue will help the state address a projected $11.3 billion gap in transportation funding during the next 25 years.

Included in HB362 is permission for local governments to ask voters to raise sales taxes for roads and transit. Specifically, counties are authorized to enact a 0.25 percent general sales tax.

So far, nearly one-third of the state’s 325 cities and towns have passed resolutions encouraging their county governments to include the question on fall ballots. On Aug. 4, the Salt Lake County Council became the first local government to put the sales tax question on the Nov. 3 ballot.

If approved by all 29 counties, the tax would raise nearly $150 million annually for local projects.

Critics say it is asking too much of taxpayers, who will soon be responsible for paying more in fuel tax and property taxes. One alternative mentioned is an Oregon-style vehicle-miles-traveled system.

Advocates say the general sales tax increase is necessary to help address population growth, deteriorating roads and insufficient funds that will not be resolved through the fuel tax increase. They say counties that put off the vote will only make maintenance work more expensive.

Counties with transit agencies would route 40 percent of the sales tax increase to the Utah Transit Authority. Another 40 percent would be directed to cities, and 20 percent would be used by counties for transportation projects.

Areas with no transit service would send 40 percent of the tax revenue to cities and the rest would go to counties.

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