Although Utah voters soundly defeated the three tax initiatives earlier this month, their legacy remains and will play a major role when the Legislature convenes in January.
Lawmakers in the Davis County area delivered this message Monday during their annual conference with the county's mayors and public officials, sponsored by the Davis Council of Governments.Taxes and revenue are high on the list of issues, lawmakers said, along with continuing concerns on economic development, the state's economy, and the level of the Great Salt Lake.
Layton Mayor Richard McKenzie repeated the annual request by mayors for restoration of part of the state's sales tax revenue to local coffers. The 3/32 percentage is earmarked for local governments but has been diverted every year by the Legislature for what it considers more pressing needs, ranging from the Great Salt Lake pumps to the state's building program.
Legislators annually promise the diversion is over and the money will be restored, McKenzie said, but the promises have so far not survived the legislative sessions.
McKenzie also expressed concern over a new anti-tax petition movement to exempt groceries from sales tax. That could cost cities up to 20 percent of their share of the sales tax revenue, he said.
But the effect of the unsuccessful tax-initiative movement lingers. "We all got a message from the recent elections on tax issues and we need to be very, very careful in those areas," McKenzie said.
Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, agreed, saying he believes the lawmakers will address taxing and revenue but he's not sure what will be done. Rep. Franklin Knowlton, R-Layton, said he expects a record number of bills dealing with taxation will be filed this session.
Syracuse Mayor DeLore Thurgood and Fruit Heights Mayor Dean Brand have differing ideas on the state's continuing to run the Great Salt Lake pumps.
Brand said in a recent council meeting the flooding crisis is over but it appears the state is continuing to pump, using tax money, to economically benefit the mineral plants around the lake shore.
But Thurgood said from his perspective - a relatively flat community on the lake's edge rather than from the upper bench - the pumping should continue because the lake is "still in my back yard."
At Monday's meeting, he urged that the pumping continue to lower the lake another 2 to 3 feet to allow restoration of the causeway to Antelope Island. That would cost $3 million to $4 million, Thurgood said, but the state estimates the tourism revenue generated at up to $14 million annually.
"That's a good investment," Thurgood said. "I wish I could get that on my money."
Knowlton told the council members the county's legislators have a good working relationship with each other and cooperate when issues affecting the county or cities come up.
Knowlton also said legislators are now forming study committees to look at a 6-point tax-control-and-reduction program outlined by Gov. Norm Bangerter during the election to counter the tax-limitation initiatives.
One of those proposals, capping property tax rates, has drawn strong opposition from county and city officials, who view it as politically motivated state interference in local government.
Rick Mayfield, Davis County's planning and economic development director, presented a brief history of the county's effort to boost its tax base and business climate.
Much of the effort has been cooperative, with other counties and the state, Mayfield said.