Gov. Norm Bangerter's main election pledge - to freeze property tax rates - may actually be approved in the Legislature.
A compromise is in the works, although both sides are still leery of the result.The property tax is the most hated of all taxes, polls show, and the governor promised that if he was re-elected, he'd work to freeze the property tax rates set by various governments and school boards.
Bangerter would freeze only the rates. Property taxes on individual properties could still go up as the value of those properties increased.
The governor said local city councils, county commissions, school boards and special improvement district boards would be allowed to increase a property tax rate only with the approval of voters in an election.
The stage was set for a mammoth fight in the Legislature - which itself orders a property tax for basic education that is levied by local school districts.
Local entities, represented in part by the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Utah Association of Counties, marshaled their lobbying forces. They'd fight the governor to the death on this one.
But now a compromise has been offered. Local government groups suggested an alternative to prohibiting their elected councils, commissions and boards from raising the property tax rate: What if a rate increase comes only with a "supermajority" vote of the elected body?
A draft bill has been sent to Bangerter's office. "We're reviewing it," said Chief of Staff Bud Scruggs. "We haven't signed off on it yet. But we think it's something that we can live with."
House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, puts it more succinctly: "The way I see it, it's the supermajority compromise or nothing this (legislative) session."
The suggested bill, not yet filed and with no sponsor, says that a greater than two-thirds vote is needed for the governing body to raise the property tax rate. If such a "supermajority" can't be found, by a simple majority vote the governing body can call an election where a majority of voters can raise their own property taxes.
On three-member county commissions - and all but one county have three-member commissions - that "supermajority" would be a 3-0 vote in favor of raising the tax. On a five-member city council it would take a 4-1 vote in favor. On a seven-member council or school board it would take a 5-2 vote for higher taxes. Currently, it takes only a majority vote of the governing body to raise taxes.
Dave Spatafore, lobbyist for the cities, said, "We're willing to support the supermajority. But understand, all local governments are elected by the people, they represent the people. And we already have property tax caps. We feel we have been and are responsible to our constituents."
Allan Moll, lobbyist for Salt Lake County and the county association, said the association board originally supported the supermajority compromise. But he added, "There are some very influential lawmakers, mainly in the (Utah) House, who think it would be better to wait a year to study the matter. We prefer that."
Bangerter doesn't want to wait.