Counties are in a financial vice between residents demanding more services on one side and federal and state governments shifting responsibilities to them on the other, Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart said Wednesday.
Speaking as president of the National Association of Counties, Stewart told a National Press Club news conference that such pressure is forcing half of the largest counties to raise taxes this year."We see ourselves literally in a vice, or between the hammer and the anvil," Stewart said.
"Fifty-three percent of the nation's largest counties will have to raise taxes this year," he added. "We see no optimistic forecast unless some basic attitudes change at the legislative and congressional level."
As part of National County Government Week, Stewart announced results of a financial survey of the nation's 425 largest counties - in which Salt Lake and Davis counties participated.
But it showed some bleak news for counties and their taxpayers. In addition to 53 percent of counties planning to raise taxes, it showed that 39 percent of counties cannot raise property taxes to satisfy service demands because they are at their legal rate ceilings.
Stewart placed blame for much of the counties' problems on state legislatures and Congress for shifting responsibility of many programs to counties without paying for them.
"Congress and the legislatures of various states will stand up and say, `We have not raised your taxes.' That's a literal dishonest statement to make to America, because they have indirectly forced taxes to go up - locally," Stewart said.
To help resolve the problem, Stewart said his organization plans intensive lobbying of Congress and legislatures during the next year to reduce unfunded mandates.
Stewart's organization also called for "financial summits" between each of the state legislatures and their counties to discuss ways to allow counties to raise more revenues locally and discuss problems of unfunded mandates.