Lawmakers supporting different tax-cutting measures have jockeyed for position for four weeks now. Support a sales tax cut? A property tax cut? How about income tax credits?
Now some lawmakers are saying, "None of the above." Instead of giving the money back to taxpayers, they say the money may be better spent on capital improvements, like highways, water projects and public buildings."It doesn't make a lot of sense to reduce taxes by $19 million and then go out and borrow $50 million more for capital projects," said Sen. Stephen J. Rees, R-Salt Lake. "It's a mirror game. It's deceptive to the taxpayers."
Rees has prepared a bill that would require any budget surplus up to $20 million a year be used to accelerate the payoff of bonded indebtedness, which if paid off would save the state $25 million a year in interest. The bill would effectively eliminate this year's $19 million surplus that has evolved into a tax-cutting tug-of-war.
The issue of "to bond or not to bond" is a hot potato on Capitol Hill. And with 104 lawmakers you get 104 different ideas on what to do about bonding.
This year, the General Government and Capital Facilities Appropriations Committee has given approval to a state building bond list totaling $51.4 million.
Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Murray, has introduced another $50 million bonding bill to address waste water and drinking water concerns in the state. And other lawmakers are talking bonds for a multitude of highway projects, including the WestValley Highway.
Lawmakers may not agree on what projects should be bonded, but they do agree on one thing: The final total bond for water, highway and building projects will probably not exceed $50 million.
"Everything hinges on tax limitation," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy. "Once we decide what we're going to do with the $19 million, then we decide what we're going to do with bonding.
"But there are probably enough critical needs in the state right now we will go ahead and bond up to $50 million regardless of tax limitation. When our needs are so great, it is wise to keep bonding."
It's wise, said Moody, because the state is staring straight in the eyes an I-15 corridor problem totaling $500 million, a critical waste water sewage problem that needs up to $300 million and dozens of state buildings that are in such disrepair that any delay in repairing them may make them irreparable.> "We need $180 million to repair existing buildings, and we need $80 million immediately," said Rep. Haze Hunter, R-Cedar City, chairman of the General Government and Capital Facilities Appropriations Committee.
Moody believes the state would have to have an extremely robust economy to generate the kind of budget surpluses needed to meet the state's infrastructure needs - about $100 million to $150 million a year.
"Leadership feels strongly that we need to establish and pay for the state's infrastructure - the highways, water projects and public buildings," said Moody. "Businesses looking to locate here all look at the state's infrastructure. And if we don't have the roads and water and other things in place, we have sold ourselves short."