ELECTION 2015: Utah counties to decide on transportation tax

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/20/2015

Voters throughout the state of Utah will head to the ballot box two weeks from today, and many counties will include a question about whether to raise taxes to help pay for local transportation needs.

Proposition 1 on ballots in 17 of the state’s 29 counties will ask voters whether to “provide funding for transportation improvements such as roads, sidewalks, trails, maintenance, bus and rail service and safety features.”

Counties that approve the ballot question would enact a 0.25 percent general sales tax, which would exclude food purchases.

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.

The 17 counties that will vote on the proposed sales tax increase on Nov. 3 are Beaver, Box Elder, Carbon, Davis, Duchesne, Grand, Juab, Morgan, Rich, San Juan, Salt Lake, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Uintah, Utah and Weber.

Authority for local governments to include the question on fall ballots was part of a new law that took effect 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 projected $76 million in annual revenue that will be raised by 2017 from the state’s fuel tax increase will help the state address a projected $11.3 billion gap in transportation funding during the next 25 years.

The local sales tax could raise up to $145 million annually.

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