When politicians warn taxpayers about the detrimental effect proposed tax limitation initiatives could have on public services, they're offering advice, not threats, say members of the Utah County Council of Governments.
"You can't threaten the people," Mapleton Mayor Everett Predmore said during COG's monthly meeting Thursday night. "But they ought to know what their options are. How you do that and make it acceptable, I don't know."Though no one knows precisely how much tax limitation would trim from local coffers, COG members said Utahns had better be prepared to pay a hefty price in decreased public services should the initiatives pass.
The initiatives to be decided this fall are the People's Tax and Spending Limitation Amendment, the People's Tax Reduction Act and the Utah Family Choice in Education act. The spending limitation act would place immediate limits on property taxes and cap government spending beginning next budget year. The tax reduction act would roll back the state income, sales, gasoline and cigarette tax hike approved last year. And the education act would give a tax credit to parents who send their children to private schools.
County Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck said passage of the initiatives would cost the county $2.9 million as a result of a 34 percent reduction in property tax and another $900,000 from lost gasoline and special service district taxes. He said 80 percent of the sheriff's department funding comes from property and special service district taxes.
"Our bread and butter comes from property tax," said Commissioner Brent Morris. Because there is no fat in the county budget, he said, the county likely would have to lay off one-fourth of its work force - about 100 employees.
Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins predicted the county would be out more than anticipated once the Legislature reapportioned the tax base left over from the initiatives. He said competition for limited tax revenues would pit the school districts against cities and counties and that the Legislature likely would favor school districts. "The Legislature would take some of that (revenues previously apportioned to counties and cities) and give it to the school districts," he said.
As for Provo, Jenkins said, the initiatives would cost the city at least $800,000 in lost property taxes.
Beck said estimates run as high as $426 million in tax revenue that would have to be trimmed statewide. He predicted state-funded programs like mental health, social services and substance abuse would be pared drastically. "If the citizens want those initiatives, we'll adjust," Morris said.
But, he added, people are mistaken if they think politicians are merely trying to protect big government by opposing the initiatives.