SALT LAKE CITY — After trying to win support for a long list of revenue options to pay for transit projects, including a statewide sales tax hike, lawmakers are settling on giving some counties the option of raising sales taxes 0.2 percent.
"While I would like to see us take bigger steps, I'm excited about this step," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said at a conference committee to resolve issues with House changes to SB136.
The House approved the revised bill 40-32 with no debate. The Senate passed it 17-10. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his action.
The bill, the product of the yearlong Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force, also makes major changes to the Utah Transit Authority, including changing its name to Transit District of Utah and creating a new management structure.
None of the changes the bill makes to UTA were affected by the early evening action taken by the conference committee, which also included House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
Also unchanged were the controversial registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles, phasing in additional costs of up to $120 a year by 2021. Opponents said the fees would discourage drivers from buying cars that contribute to cleaner air.
The conference committee was convened after the Senate refused to accept the removal of transit funding by the House.
Now, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said the new 0.2 percent sales tax option, available after July 2019, could raise at least $30 million in Salt Lake County for transit projects that would go to UTA.
"They're screaming for buses in Salt Lake County," Harper told reporters.
Before the new tax could be imposed, counties would have to be collecting all four of the quarter-cent increases for transportation already allowed. Voters in some counties, including Salt Lake, rejected a 2015 increase known as Proposition 1.
Hughes said he wants to see the task force look at more uniformity among the counties in how that money is used, a study that will be done during the legislative interim.
The price tag for UTA's name change had been estimated at $50 million by the transit agency, but Harper said he disagreed because the new name would start appearing as buses and other items are replaced, not all at once.
He said the name change was necessary, citing the federal oversight required for up to three years under a nonprosecution agreement UTA signed a year ago with the U.S. Attorney's office, agreeing to cooperate in an ongoing investigation.9 comments on this story
"UTA has had a great past that has been checkered," Harper said, calling the new name, along with changes including replacing the 16-member board of trustees with a three-member management team that will run the agency, a new start.
"I really believe it's going to be key to clearly state to everybody this is a new transit agency," he said. "We need to put a stake in the ground saying, '(From) this day forward, business will not be conducted as usual. There will be a change.'"