Meeting public demand to deliver more services to growing populations - while simultaneously facing the potential budget impacts of tax limitation - is the greatest fiscal problem facing government.
So concluded state and local elected officials who Friday addressed the First Annual Fiscal Summit Conference, sponsored by the Utah Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations.The council, composed of a number of local and state elected officials and citizen members, is a body created by state law to study issues that cross the normal lines between different levels of government and to recommend solutions to the governor and Legislature.
The summit was called to address the question "What are the most pressing fiscal issues facing Utah?" The answer, according to summit speakers, is the tax initiatives and their potential impact on government service levels and on state and local economic development efforts.
Gov. Norm Bangerter keynoted the summit, reiterating his often-stated position that the initiatives go too far in rolling back taxes.
The three initiatives that will appear on the November ballot - a property tax cap, a rollback of other taxes to 1986 levels and the granting of tax credits to parents whose children attend private schools - would roll back more kinds of taxes and impose deeper cuts than tax limitation measures passed in recent years by California and Massachusetts voters, Bangerter said.
"Tax limitation proponents ignore Utah's unique demographics - which show a higher percentage of school-age children and a lower percentage of working-age adults in the population than any other state in the country," he said.
West Jordan mayor Kristen Lambert said perhaps the greatest potential impact of the initiatives on city budgets would be a lack of money to make a continuing investment in the maintenance of roads and other capital facilities.
Short-term needs would probably take priority in local budgets should the initiatives pass, with deteriorating capitol facilities over the long run, she said. That would cripple efforts to attract new industries and create jobs.
"Government at all levels must recommit to investing in infrastructure, regardless of whether the tax initiatives pass," Lambert said.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart called the initiatives a "double hernia" that will devastate county budgets still recovering from the loss of federal revenue sharing dollars two years ago.
"Counties would feel the most impact from the initiatives because they rely most heavily on property taxes, which provide an average of 44 percent of county revenue across the state," Stewart said.
Counties will lose an average of 24 percent of their property tax revenue should the initiatives pass. And because funds used to pay off county debt are exempt from any budget cuts, operations funds - those that pay for services - will take a disproportionate cut, the commissioner said.
Stewart also encouraged the Legislature to give more consideration to the needs of counties, a move he said would foster better relations between the two levels of government.