Gov. Norm Bangerter will push a property tax freeze bill this legislative session.
The governor's aides say the bill will allow local governing bodies to increase property tax rates with a so-called super majority vote but will also require that voters in the next general election state their preference on such a tax hike.
The vote would be only a referendum, not binding, on the taxing authority. But it would be politically difficult for the local government officials to continue imposing a property tax increase that voters specifically rejected, the governor believes.
Bangerter has found a sponsor for the bill, House Majority Assistant Whip Byron Har-wood, R-Provo. The bill was scheduled to be introduced Thursday.
The governor promised to push for a property tax freeze as part of his six-point tax reform plan unveiled in the waning days before the November election. Bangerter, a Republican, was trailing in the polls at the time, and some considered the promise a desperate move.
Desperate or not, Bangerter won re-election and numerous times since has promised to fulfill his campaign pledges. His six-point tax plan - which includes the property tax freeze, a greater property tax credit for the poor and elderly, and tax reductions where appropriate - is the mainstay of his 1989 legislative program.
Increasing the property tax credit has passed both houses in different forms, and Bangerter's recommended $19 million tax reduction seems a sure thing.
However, not until Wednesday did Bangerter say he'd put forward a concrete property tax freeze plan himself this session. Previously, he's said only that he'd work toward that end and call a special legislative session later if property taxes weren't frozen by lawmakers.
The governor appointed a committee to look into such a freeze, but its GOP members say they need more time - beyond the session - to study the matter. Bangerter apparently won't wait; he's had his own bill prepared.
Legislative sources said Bangerter's bill is a variation on a compromise offered by cities and counties several weeks ago. Local officials dislike the freeze idea because they get the lion's share of their revenues through the property tax.
The bill allows a local taxing entity, like a city council, school district board or county commission, to increase property tax rates itself. But the vote must be a "super majority" - a 3-0 vote on a three-member county commission, at least a 4-1 vote on a five-member board or council, or at least a 5-2 vote on a seven-member board or council.
The bill also allows the governing body to go directly to the voters for approval of a property tax increase. If the body picks the super-majority route, it must then have the referendum vote.
A referendum vote is a sticking point with local government officials. The compromise offered by the cities and counties allowed the super-majority vote or a vote of the people to raise property tax rates. It didn't require that citizens vote on the tax hike after the local governing entity adopted it. It's that kind of tax-hike referendum vote that many local officials object to, since they don't want to take every property tax increase before the voters.
Bangerter, his aides say, is keenly aware of his promise that no property taxes be raised without a vote of the people. In his pre-election proposal, only through such a public vote could property tax be increased. The governor doesn't really like the super majority concept but is willing to accept it as long as the tax hike is voted on later by those it affects, aides say.
With the Legislature adjourning next Wednesday, what chance does Bangerter's tax freeze bill have?
"I think it will pass in the House," said Harwood.
"I think it will fly in the Senate," said Senate President Arnold Chris-tensen, R-Sandy. "Vote against a property tax freeze and the people's right to vote on it? Kind of like voting against motherhood, isn't it?"