One of the most common inequities in Utah's tax system is the county property tax levied on private automobiles.
A person living in Brigham City, for example, pays a much lower auto tax than a Salt Lake resident who owns the same model car. And figuring the tax is an incredibly complex job for county workers. The state has 872 local taxing districts, and the wildly varying mill levies in such districts must all be figured in each county's auto tax rate.A simpler and fairer approach would be for all counties to have the same tax - or some standard fee - on the same kind of autos.
In 1974, Utah voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made auto taxes exactly the same in every county - replacing the varied and complicated county-by-county system that still exists.
However, the defeat was blamed more on negative voter reaction to a controversial land use amendment on the same ballot than opposition to the auto tax proposal. The land use issue dragged down other proposals that shared the same ballot.
Despite that rejection, the equal tax idea remains a good one. Since 1974, it has been brought up many times in the Legislature, and has been suggested by various task forces and study groups. But it has never made it back onto the ballot for another vote.
The latest support for the idea was offered this week by the legislative auditor general's office. Its audit indicated the whole auto taxing process is cumbersome, antiquated, and causes too many errors.
Counties use different methods in figuring the auto tax. Some value vehicles at wholesale rates, others use retail rates. Depreciation schedules also need to be adjusted to more accurately reflect real declines in the market value of cars.
The simplest approach would be for the state to set standard, statewide fees for particular autos, no matter where in Utah the car was registered. This would save countless hours of calculations, make it easy for motorists to anticipate their tax bill, and put all car owners on the same footing.