Salt Lake City is preparing to head off any detrimental tax-limitation packages that could appear on Capitol Hill this January when the Legislature convenes for its regular session, the city's chief lobbyist said.
"The No. 1, 2 and 3 issues will be the governor's and/or the Legislature's response to the tax initiatives," said Steven Allred, assistant city attorney and legislative affairs manager.The city will assume a "defensive position" should legislation gouging into its revenue base be proposed, unless the bill is balanced by tangible efficiencies or "some corresponding revenue enhancement from another area," he said.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Norm Bangerter proposed a 6-point tax-limitation plan that included a property tax freeze, a limit on government growth and a required vote of the people to approve property tax increases.
City and county officials balked at the proposal, contending it restricted their main revenue source - property taxes - which the state does not rely on at all.
Bangerter has said it is unlikely he will introduce his proposal during this year's regular session, although it could appear on a special-session agenda later in the year.
Allred, however, said he would not be surprised if other legislation affecting property tax would be introduced in the regular session.
Additionally, former backers of three tax-limitation initiatives appearing on November's ballot this year are now spearheading an effort to trim sales tax on food. One bill eliminating state-collected food sales tax has already been filed.
Last fiscal year, the city collected $2.2 million in sales tax on food, a finance official said.
The tax revolt that manifested itself in the initiatives to curb property taxes, rollback a 1987 tax increase and give a tax break to parents of children in private schools has left an indelible impression on City Hall, Allred said.
"I think the attitude (of Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis') is that the attitude of a good portion of the electorate, as evidenced by the tax-initiative referendum, can't be ignored," he said. But legislation affecting property tax, from which cities get a major portion of their revenue but from which the state gets none, will be viewed with skepticism unless it's accompanied by proposed government efficiencies, Allred said.
"Property tax is a much larger element of local government budgets than it is of the state's," he said.