Gov. Norm Bangerter is committed to freezing property taxes and to requiring a vote of the public to raise them, despite his misgivings about government run by "true democracy" and despite opposition from counties.
In a tense meeting with various county officials Monday, Bangerter said he wants politicians to have the responsibility of communicating the needs of government to the people when they want taxes raised. Voters sent a strong message last month about the need for lower taxes, he said.County officials are concerned about Bangerter's plan because they rely on property taxes to run their governments. They asked for the meeting to express their concerns to the governor.
"The only countywide source of revenue there is is property tax," said Brent Gardner, director of the Utah Association of Counties. "If that's frozen, I'm not sure whether counties can continue."
Bangerter said his plan would not place undue restrictions on local governments. He said the public hates property taxes more than any other form of taxation.
"If there are needs we can't meet, we're going to have to go to the people," he said. "I'd rather be ahead of them asking for support than behind them trying to fend them off.
"That's a true democracy, which we're not of course. But I think we have the mechanism to get the message out to the people."
Bangerter, as he has several times since the election, said voters sent a strong message when they placed three tax-limiting initiatives on the ballot in November. They defeated the initiatives mainly because people opposed to the measures were able to communicate their concerns, but voters still feel a need for a milder form of tax limitation, he said.
"We're in a new era politically. We've got to figure out the way to bring the people with us," he said. "With the media the way it is today, we can alwayscommunicate."
Bangerter has formed a committee of county and city officials and others to draft a bill that would make his plan state law. He hopes the committee can reach a fair compromise, but he has no intention of drastically altering his plan, and he bristled at comments from county officials who contend they are being picked on.
"That's not true," he said. "We all take the rap. We're all in places where we take the heat.
"If you're here to say it (the bill) can't be written, then we will have to write it without you."
County officials said they are required to provide all the unpopular government services, such as jails and mental-health agencies. They also criticized the state for requiring them to provide certain services without giving them the money to pay for them.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Bart Barker said counties have been conservative with property tax rates. Salt Lake County recently approved a 1989 budget that holds the line on taxes.
While the county officials do not advocate an increase in property taxes, they do want other sources of income, such as the ability to tax utility bills as cities do. However, legislators have rejected that idea in the past.
The officials hope to meet with Bangerter again in two months.