Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Rep. Francis D. Gibson stands with House Speaker Greg Hughes, and gives a few remarks on the House floor in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Counties would be able to raise local sales taxes for roads, transit projects or both under a bill advanced unanimously Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee.

SALT LAKE CITY — Counties would be able to raise local sales taxes for roads, transit projects or both under a bill advanced unanimously Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee.

HB423, sponsored by House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, would also allow private companies to compete with the Utah Transit Authority for transit projects.

The bill, which now goes to the full House, was described as a back up to more comprehensive legislation from the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force.

Gibson said under the bill, counties could seek a quarter-cent sales tax increase for transit and/or one-tenth of a cent increase for local roads. He said later the bill will be amended on the House floor to require voter approval.

Voters rejected a quarter-cent tax increase in several counties in 2015, including Utah and Salt Lake. Gibson said in Utah County, he was told that was because voters did not want to raise funds for UTA.

"I'm not here to speak against UTA. I just know counties want the option to do something else," Gibson told the committee. "UTA has just been the only choice up and down the Wasatch Front."

The transit agency, which has a history of critical legislative audits signed a nonprosecution agreement last year with the U.S. Attorney's Office, agreeing to cooperate in an ongoing federal investigation and accept federal monitoring.

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, joined Gibson in presenting the bill to the committee and said he was "aware of some other entities that might want to bid to compete with UTA."

Those entities could include Swiss-owned Stadler Rail, currently building an assembly facility in Salt Lake City, Gibson said later. Anderegg was part of a delegation that traveled to Switzerland in 2015 to meet with Stadler officials.

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Two UTA trustees resigned after the controversial trip, which also resulted in a UTA competitive bid being canceled and then rebid. The agency agreed last year to sell Stadler property for the assembly facility, but the project went elsewhere.

Matt Sibul, UTA government relations director, told the committee the agency's projects serving 80 cities in six counties are already always bid out to private companies.

"We manage those contracts and we deliver those projects," he said, noting UTA was created in the 1960s to deal with a "patchwork" of local transit projects. Sibul said it's important UTA have a source of long-term funding that's sustainable.