M. Royce Van Tassell: Mayor Peter Corroon's 17.5% property tax hike raises questions
Ravell Call, Deseret News
Mayor Peter Corroon is proving yet again that no politicians are more free than those who have nothing to lose. His tenure as Salt Lake County mayor is over, so voters can't punish him for proposing a $31 million property tax hike now. And in so doing, Corroon is exposing his proclamations of transparency and honesty as nothing more than a politically useful faade.
Despite opposition from liberal groups like the Great Salt Lake Keepers and conservative groups like the Utah Taxpayers Association, Corroon's $47 million bond passed comfortably on election night. The Taxpayers Association repeatedly argued that the county's $26 million in deferred park maintenance proved they couldn't afford to operate their existing parks and trails, let alone a broader portfolio of parks and trails.
Repeatedly throughout the campaign over Proposition 1, we asked Corroon to explain how the county would take care of this mountain of deferred maintenance, plus operate the new parks and trails and not hike property takes. Inevitably, Corroon would glibly avoid answering the question, instead waxing eloquent about the great parks and trails this bond would provide.
Two days after the public approved his $47 million bond, Corroon stood at the podium of the Salt Lake County Council Chambers to release his proposed 2013 budget. He began by noting, "Over the years I have preached being open, honest and ethical. My goal has always been to manage a transparent and efficient government." Then he confirmed the Taxpayers Association's fears, and announced that under his "efficient" government Salt Lake County taxpayers would need to pony up another $31 million per year in property taxes.
To appreciate just how disingenuous Corroon's budget statement was, consider that four days earlier (the day before the election) he refused to acknowledge that his budget would necessitate a property tax hike. I sat less than 5 feet from him and publicly asked Corroon to explain how Salt Lake County could eliminate its deferred maintenance without a tax increase. He refused to even acknowledge the possibility of a tax hike.
Supporters of Corroon might claim that the budget wasn't finished on Monday, that Corroon still didn't know about the tax hike. That is simply impossible. Salt Lake County's budget document is more than 500 pages long. It takes many, many months to amalgamate all the data from all the departments. Given all the advance preparation that goes into the county's budget, it is inconceivable that Corroon was unaware of this tax hike.
Which leads us back to his claim of being motivated by openness and honesty. In light of his budget, Corroon simply wasn't open or honest with the public in the debate over Proposition 1. Well before Election Day, he could and should have told Salt Lake County taxpayers that they would likely face a property tax hike, in addition to the increased property taxes associated with the bonds.
In all likelihood, that admission would have spelled Proposition 1's demise. However, it would also have been the open, honest way to approach the bond. As it turns out, Corroon's willingness to play "hide the ball" with this tax increase demonstrated more about his commitment to "open, honest" government than his previous eight years in office.
Royce Van Tassell is the vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.