SALT LAKE CITY — Faced with the opportunity to collect 100 percent of its revenue until June 2019, Salt Lake County leaders are eying their chance to revive the failed sales tax hike that would have captured about $58 million in new revenue for transportation projects had voters approved in 2015.
The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday was briefed on the new tax opportunities provided to counties in the sweeping transportation bill passed by the Utah Legislature this year, and council members expressed interest in seeking feedback from cities and members of the public on how they should act.
The new law, along with many other provisions, gives leaders in counties that didn't pass Proposition 1 in 2015 the power to bring back the sales tax increase — which would raise taxes by roughly one penny for every $4 spent — either by implementing it through a vote from their legislative bodies or by placing it back on another ballot.
The County Council didn't take any formal action Tuesday, but Councilman Jim Bradley, a Democrat, described the opportunity as "so tempting it would be foolish not to take."
"But given that I also think maybe we ought to give ourselves plenty of time to make sure we have an appropriate process and debate in terms of putting that before the public," Bradley said.
But the council doesn't have a lot of time if they want to take full advantage of the new law.
Included in the new law, which takes effect in May, is an incentive for counties to act sooner rather than later, because if the council implements the tax before June 30, 2019, the county would be able to use 100 percent of its revenue up until that date to either pay off debt or fund regional transportation projects.
After June 2019, the funds will be split as if the tax increase had been passed under Proposition 1: With 40 percent going to UTA, 40 percent to cities and 20 percent to counties. If counties don't act, the sales tax option has an expiration date of June 2022.
The earliest the County Council could implement the tax would be in October, with a deadline on July 1 to notify the Utah Tax Commission. That means the County Council would need to make a decision by end of June.
Andrew Gruber, executive director of Wasatch Front Regional Council, who briefed the County Council on its options, said it may be a "fiscally conservative step" to use the estimated $40 million Salt Lake County may collect in the roughly nine months it would be able to capture 100 percent of the tax revenue to pay down debt obligations — as well as secure additional funding for projects for the city and county into the future.
"I hope you as the county council will give very serious consideration to this (option) now," Gruber said. "Because, as you know, your cities and the county are in real need for having additional resources to invest in our transportation infrastructure."11 comments on this story
Gruber added that conversations with city officials indicate "there are a lot of cities really hoping this moves forward, and I would imagine they would be willing to let you know that."
Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton floated the idea of asking for resolutions of support from city councils, as well as proposals from cities that would lay out some of their "dire need projects."
Newton suggested the council start planning a public input process next week, and perhaps put the issue on an early May agenda.