Proposition 1 — the proposed sales tax increase on this year’s ballot — could bring millions of transportation dollars to my city and yours. So why would a mayor like me not support it?
First, nearly half of the revenue raised through Proposition 1 will go directly to UTA, and not our local municipalities. Is UTA really deserving of more of your money? According to a 2014 audit, 50 percent of UTA’s sales tax revenues are consumed by debt payments. The same audit reveals that FrontRunner receives a 95 percent subsidy from sales taxes, while buses receive an 85 percent subsidy. In other words, bus and train fares are not covering the costs of public transit. Instead, it’s the vehicle drivers who are paying the lion's share for the UTA. Mass transit works best in areas of the United States with dense populations. But here in Utah, drivers have voted with their keys and have largely chosen the car over the bus. Therefore, we should focus transportation spending where there is the highest demand: roads.
Second, Proposition 1 is the third new tax this year. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a $75 million state property tax increase. Next came a 5-cent gas tax increase for transportation. This third tax, which now goes on the ballot for your consideration, will cost taxpayers an average of $100 annually per household. Another large tax increase is a bold “ask” during a year that saw a state surplus of $638 million.
Third, Proposition 1 does not allow for cities to offset their current transportation spending. What that means is that every city will have a de facto “pedal to the metal” transportation budget. This one-size-fits-all approach will force cities that already have sufficient funding for transportation to find new projects for this money — projects that might not be needed. It would be far better for our municipalities to tailor their transportation budgets according to the needs of each specific city.
Fourth, a sales tax increase would hurt the middle and lower classes disproportionately. In the 1950s, Utah’s state sales tax was 2 percent. In the 1970s, the tax rose to 4 percent. Today, we pay a 6.85 percent sales tax rate in Salt Lake County — and Davis (6.50 percent), Utah (6.75 percent) and Weber (6.85 percent) Counties aren’t far behind. The proposed 0.25 percent increase under Proposition 1 would push sales taxes to 7 percent or higher! This upward trend is alarming. For the top earners, this tax hike will hardly be noticed. However, the increase will be felt most acutely by those who have limited incomes. In essence, the buying power of the middle and lower classes will be diminished under Proposition 1.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, government needs to be restrained. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the combined federal, state and local budgets now account for 42 percent of the total U.S. economy. If communism is defined as government operating at 100 percent of the total economy, we’re almost halfway there. America is at a pivotal moment: Will we choose freedom or oppression? I believe the wiser course of action is to reprioritize our current revenues and allow the people of Utah to keep their hard-earned money.
It's time to tell UTA that “enough is enough.” As one of the nation's most conservative states, Utah should be seeking tax cuts, not tax hikes. Proposition 1 will only serve to feed more money into an ever-hungry bureaucratic belly.
For these reasons and others, I will be voting no on Proposition 1 this November. I encourage you to do the same.
Dave Alvord currently serves as mayor of South Jordan.