A based taxpayer group based in Washington, D.C., has designated the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce as its "Enemy of the Taxpayer" for the month of July, citing a proposal the chamber backs that would put before voters a sales tax increase to pay for a regional transportation network.

The proposal in question, released by the chamber last month, called for a sales tax hike in four Utah counties to expand TRAX and commuter rail, as well as for some road improvements. The proposal would raise the portion of the sales tax dedicated to the Utah Transit Authority to a uniform one cent in Utah, Davis, Salt Lake and Weber counties. That increase, according to the proposal, would raise about $1.8 billion over 10 years.

On Wednesday, the Americans for Tax Reform called the proposition "between stupid and silly," and one that would stifle business and make goods more expensive.

"This is not a chamber that is looking after the interests of Salt Lake City, Utah and the business community," said Grover Norquist, the ATR's president.

This is the first time the group, formed in 1985, has chosen a chamber of commerce as its taxpayer enemy, Norquist said. As with its "Friend of the Taxpayer" designation, the enemy is picked largely based on input from taxpayer groups. The Salt Lake Chamber was singled out, and not only by local taxpayer advocates.

"In Utah, certainly taxpayers are aware of it, but even in other states people are aware that Salt Lake has a problem," Norquist said. "A number of states recognized that they have problems, but everyone had to admit that Utah's was the worst."

Natalie Gochnour, vice president of policy for the chamber, said its transportation proposal was crafted after much deliberation with member businesses and the chamber board of governors. The consensus, according to Gochnour, was that Utah faces a transportation crisis.

"We have a choice," Gochnour said. "We can pay now, or we can pay a whole lot more later. And we'll pay not only money, but also in wasted time. That's not good for business, and it's not good for our members."

In addition to frustrating gridlock on the highway, Gochnour said businesses are concerned about higher transportation costs, lower worker productivity and diminished quality of life — all of which the chamber believes will occur if nothing is done, and all of which affect a state's ability to recruit new workers and attract new companies.

The chamber cites studies projecting that Utah's roadways face a tripling of congestion by 2030 if nothing is done, and a recent Deseret Morning News poll showing that about 68 percent of residents in the four counties would definitely or probably vote for the chamber's proposed sales tax increase. About 28 percent said they would not approve the measure.

"Our interest has been in a regional transit network, and the best way to fund a regional transit network is for a uniform rate," Gochnour said.

Norquist said there are other options.

"We'd like to see them promote tax reductions, spending restraint, contracting out, privatization, congestion pricing on roads," he said. "There are any number of things you can do, and lots of things to work on. This is a chamber that spent zero time and effort looking to make the city and state budget more effective."

Gochnour said the chamber's proposal came after considering many options and hearing much input.

"And I'd argue that business leaders here understand business issues here better than people outside of our economy," she said.


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com