There is growing concern in Salt Lake City that a single sales-tax rate for the state of Utah would be detrimental to the city's arts organizations and Utah's Hogle Zoo.
And that concern could force Salt Lake City leaders and Utah's arts community to oppose a plan state lawmakers are pushing to create a simplified sales-tax system. The problem, city leaders and arts advocates say, is that the current version of the single sales-tax plan would eliminate the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks tax in 10 years.
"It sounds like the big losers are the arts organizations," Councilman Carlton Christensen said. They've "been very heavily dependent on the ZAP tax."
While Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said he won't have a final bill drafted for another week, his current legislative designs are to create one sales tax rate for the whole state. Such a plan would restrict individual counties from boosting sales tax rates to fund special taxes like ZAP or Davis County's Recreation, Arts and Parks tax.
Utah Symphony & Opera Chief Executive Officer Anne Ewers said any single-rate tax plan that doesn't save arts funding "in perpetuity" is a bad idea.
"Utah Symphony & Opera would support a statewide single-rate sales tax plan, if that plan included a RAP or ZAP component in perpetuity," Ewers said in a statement. "Our concern with the current proposal is that our RAP and ZAP funding would only be preserved for 10 years, after which current beneficiaries would need to solicit individual municipalities, which would be burdensome and most likely result in less funding for the arts."
Arts, parks and zoo advocates point out there is overwhelming support for ZAP in Salt Lake County. Last election voters countywide supported renewing the tax at a 71 percent margin. That's a greater victory than the margin with which President Bush carried the county.
"The ZAP tax has been very successful," Councilman Eric Jergensen said.
The current legislative plan presented to the Salt Lake City Council by the Utah League of Cities and Towns last week is that taxes like ZAP/RAP taxes, resort community taxes and rural hospital taxes would be eliminated after the bonds that support those taxes were paid.
Once the bonds are paid, the money that went to those unique funds would likely be transferred to a city's general fund to be disbursed as the city wishes.
Officials from the league say the individual cities would then have to come together with an interlocal agreement and put that money back into an arts or parks fund. Or culture groups would have to hit up each city for funding individually.
"It becomes a general fund issue," league lobbyist Roger Tew said. "If you want to keep (the money) for them you'll have to decide that."
Still, city leaders worry that not all the county's suburban cities would be willing to create such a fund, especially since most of the county's major arts programs and the zoo are in Salt Lake City.
"It seems like it would be very problematic for the Utah Symphony or the zoo to have to go to 15 different cities and get the same funding they are getting through the ZAP tax," Buhler said.
Carter Livingston, who ran the campaign to get ZAP extended last year, said the tax system has been fairly administered and wildly popular. Livingston will be at the Legislature this year representing some 23 "tier 1" arts groups who want to make sure the single-rate plan doesn't end ZAP.
"Anything that potentially messes with (ZAP) is not the best idea," added Chris Lino, business manager for the Pioneer Theatre Company, which gains $500,000 of its $4 million budget from ZAP taxes. All told the ZAP tax funnels $15 million to $16 million into parks, the zoo and arts programs.
Mayor Rocky Anderson's office is also concerned about losing the ability for voters to add countywide sales-tax increases for popular projects.
Deputy Mayor Rocky Fluhart said the city is still looking at an option to have a single sales-tax rate for each of Utah's 29 counties. While that system wouldn't be as simple as a one statewide rate, it would be simpler than the current system of 96 different tax rates in Utah.
Twenty-nine rates would also give individual counties the ability to continue to employ ZAP and RAP taxes.
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