Property tax limits set by the Legislature would be no more acceptable to local governments than the tax limiting initiatives rejected by voters last month, a group of local leaders told Salt Lake-area legislators Tuesday.
Salt Lake County commissioners, mayors and city council members gave lawmakers a clear message: effective tax limiting legislation is already in place, and any further state attempts to limit taxes could threaten local government services and raise the cost of borrowing money.But with Gov. Norm Bangerter, and apparently the public favoring tax limitation, local leaders appear resigned to some form of state-imposed limits on local property taxes, perhaps coming from the next legislative session beginning Jan 9.
So local entities are asking state lawmakers - if they come up with a tax limit plan - to move slowly, be fair and consider local governments a partner in the process.
Many of the same protests local governments made just a few short weeks ago about three tax-limiting initiatives are now being used against Bangerter's plan for a state-mandated property tax freeze.
"It would be tragic if we took what was won at the ballot box in November and lost it in the Legislature in January just because we're running scared," Murray City Council member Greg Brown told legislators.
"Initiatives A, B, and C lost by a 2-1 margin," Brown said. "But I don't think anyone is contemplating tax increases. Artificial limits are no more palatable in January than they were in November."
The Salt Lake-area state representatives and senators were invited to a special meeting of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments to hear local leaders concerns over Bangerter's plan.
During the gubernatorial campaign, the governor pledged that if re-elected he'd push for a freeze on local property taxes as part of a six-point tax limiting plan. After his re-election, he served notice to local governments that he intends to carry out that promise.
Brown and S.L. County commissioner Bart Barker are local government representatives on a tax limitation task force Bangerter asked to come up with a fair property tax limit plan.
Local leaders maintain that the 1985 Truth-in-Taxation law, which requires local governments to clearly advertise proposed tax hikes and hold public hearings on them, has held down tax increases over the past three years.
Truth-in-Taxation has done a much better job of limiting taxes than the arbitrary 106-percent-spending limit formula previously in place, said Barker. Why then would legislators want to set another arbitrary limit when the current system is working, local leaders asked.
"It's hard to make one size coat fit everybody," Brown told legislators. "It's your job to do something that's fair to all the people of Utah."
Legislators must balance the public cry for tax limitation with the public demand, often from the same mouths, for local government services, he said. Brown called for a tax-limit compromise that could please both Bangerter and local governments, but indicated that may be impossible.