A bill that would strip Salt Lake County of much of its restaurant tax receipts makes no sense at all. SB218 would cost county taxpayers about $200 million, much of which currently is going to pay debts for construction of the Salt Palace and the South Towne Expo Center.
If passed, the bill would allow cities to keep much of the money the restaurant tax generates within their own borders. That would shift the balance of the money collected from an even distribution based on merit and need, and instead enrich Salt Lake City and other large cities that happen to have the most restaurants. Many smaller cities would not be able to afford to continue the programs the money currently funds. The tax is supposed to fund convention centers, tourism and recreation.
The eventual result would be for cities to begin using tax incentives to lure restaurants from each other the way they now lure retailers. That would end up costing taxpayers more while providing less in return. In addition, the loss of a funding source for retiring debt could jeopardize the county's triple-A bond rating, also costing taxpayers more.
So why was the bill written?
It couldn't be in response to worries about politics controlling restaurant tax proceeds. The funds are distributed by an advisory board that includes local mayors. One of the hallmarks of this tax has been its even-handed distribution. It couldn't have arisen out of some high regard for public policy. Convention, tourism and recreation projects are best handled on a regional basis, not spread among multiple cities within the same county.
No, our well-informed suspicion is that the soccer stadium is the secret catalyst for SB218. Salt Lake County has been unwilling so far to provide an extra $6 million in property-tax receipts toward the stadium, in addition to the $35 million state lawmakers forced it to pay last year. The money was to be part of $10 million in property taxes Sandy had promised Real Salt Lake, the soccer team.
If this bill is intended as a punishment, or as leverage to obtain that money, that is shameful. Utahns ought to have had enough by now of lawmaker shenanigans involving the soccer stadium.