Supporters of a quarter-cent sales tax hike on the ballot in three northern Utah counties are facing opposition to the increase from city councils in Davis County.
At least two councils, Kaysville and North Salt Lake, declined to endorse the increase this week. Those who voted against offering support said they didn't want to subsidize the Utah Transit Authority, and worried their cities wouldn't benefit from the tax hike.
"I just feel like UTA is already a tax-generated agency, and here we are creating a county tax that supplements something we're already taxed for, which in general, is something I think is bad government," said Matt Hardy, a North Salt Lake council member.
The tax increase, if approved, would raise as much as $12 million in Davis County during its first year of authorization, $8.7 million in Weber County, and $800,000 in Box Elder County. The money would go to a mix of about 35 road and transit projects in Weber and Davis, and in Box Elder, it would fund expansion of commuter rail.
A majority of city councils in Weber and Box Elder counties have backed the tax hike. The city of Ogden has debated a resolution of support and tabled a vote until Oct. 16.
Kaysville Councilman Gil Miller said he voted against supporting the measure because Tuesday was the first time his council had been approached about the issue.
"I can't get educated in 30 minutes," he said.
Miller commutes to Salt Lake City from Kaysville every day.
"I can't stand the traffic," he said. "There's no doubt there's a problem."
But, Miller said, he doesn't know if the sales-tax increase is the right mechanism to address the problem because he hasn't studied the measure.
"I might vote for it personally if I learn more in the next few weeks," he added.
To help voters grasp the issue better, the Davis County Commission approved the production of voter information guides regarding the opinion question. On Oct. 12, the guides will be sent to 77,000 voter homes in the county, and 5,000 copies will be available in public buildings.
The guide includes arguments for and against the measure.
John Pitt, president of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, wrote that the measure needs to be passed because it will save tax dollars in the long run by making Davis County eligible for transportation projects sooner.
Ronald Mortensen, co-founder of CitizensForTaxFairness.org, says voters should not pass the measure.
Mortensen, who wrote against the measure in the voter guide, said residents are already paying one-half cent in sales tax for transportation projects. He cites the $10 increase in vehicle registrations in Davis and Weber counties for corridor preservation, and says that four countywide property-tax increases are enough for residents to shoulder.
Steve Handy, spokesman for the Northern Utah Transportation Alliance, said Thursday his group is aware of the opposition but confident it can build support to approve the tax hike this November. The challenge is getting voters to understand why the tax hike is needed and, in Davis County, to differentiate it from a question about school vouchers that is also on the ballot, Handy said.
The school voucher question is labeled "Referendum 1" on the Davis County ballot. The tax increase question is titled "Opinion Question 1." Weber County has labeled the transportation question as "Transportation Improvement Question 1."
"It's not going to be easy," Handy said about the campaign. "Even though there are those of us who understand it ... it's just not on the radar screen of many people."
The Transportation Alliance is working to distribute lawn signs, design mailers, gather letters of support from city councils and raise money for media advertisements. The group believes that all residents of the three counties will benefit from the tax hike."We want people to recognize this is more of an investment toward decreasing future taxes," Pitt said.