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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Local Option Sales Tax

You may have heard some talk about the local option sales tax increase for transportation. As your council member, I feel that YOU should get to decide if your sales taxes should increase. Because of this, I support putting this issue on the ballot in November for you to decide. 

What is the local option sales tax proposal?

Earlier this year the State Legislature passed House Bill 362. This authorized counties to enact a 0.25% general sales tax for transportation, which is the equivalent of 25 cents for every hundred dollars spent. In Salt Lake County the sales tax is at 6.85%, so if this passes the sales tax would increase to 7.1%. It will generate nearly $54 million for transportation and infrastructure needs and the bill clearly spells out how the money is allocated:
  • 0.10% would go to cities and unincorporated areas (about $21.4 million) for transportation purposes like roads, transit, pedestrian facilities and active transportation. They are not allowed to use the funds from this tax to "supplant existing general fund appropriations that a county, city or town has budgeted for transportation" as of the date this tax takes effect.
  • 0.10% would go to Utah Transit Authority (about $21.4 million) for capital expenses and service increase. This includes bus purchases, expanding bus and TRAX service frequency and providing additional transportation coverage.
  • 0.05% would go to Salt Lake County (about $10.7 million) for regional transportation projects. We participate with Wasatch Front Regional Council and transportation projects are prioritized through a process with county officials, city mayors and planners.
Why this fall instead of next year? 
  1. We have had cities in Salt Lake County send us a resolutions asking us to put this on the ballot in 2015. I respect our city leaders and as a county council member I won't turn my back on their request. Your city leaders also believe that you should decide something this important. 
  2. This fall 14 of the 16 cities (all but Taylorsville and West Valley City) have decided to do mailed ballots to every registered voter. That means the majority of the county will have an opportunity to vote from the ease of their home, which I believe will increase voter turnout over previous municipal election years. (Of course there will be still be several polling stations for those who like to vote the regular way.) We can't force people to vote, but it's good when we make it as easy as possible.
  3. Next year's ballot will be busy. Besides legislators, county officials, and Congressional candidates, in 2016 we will also have a U.S. Senator, Governor, and President on the ballot. The local option sales tax is an important issue and I worry it will get lost in the shuffle next year with all the election clutter. This year the ballot has fewer candidates and issues.
The county council passed an ordinance last year that says if we decide to put a tax increase on the ballot during a municipal election year, we need to have a super majority - six votes instead of just five.

As we look at this ballot initiative, I feel strongly that taxpayers/voters need full transparency on the issues. I pledge to you that we will have detailed information on what this sales tax increase would mean so that you can make an informed decision. Stay tuned for more information on this issue!