SALT LAKE CITY — The day before the Salt Lake City Council was expected to consider a resolution to support the revival of a failed sales-tax hike for transportation in Salt Lake County, Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a statement saying now is not the time.
"While I strongly support investing in Salt Lake City's street and transit needs, I do not believe it is the right time for Salt Lake City to support the quarter-cent sales tax increase currently being considered by the Salt Lake County Council and city councils across the region," Biskupski said late Monday.
SB136, the massive transportation bill the Utah Legislature passed this year, granted counties the power to revive the $58 million, 0.25 percent tax hike shot down by Salt Lake County voters in 2015. After grappling over what to do with that power, the Salt Lake County Council in April passed an ordinance leaving the decision up to city leaders.
If councils for cities, towns and metro townships representing 67 percent of Salt Lake County's population adopt resolutions supporting the tax, the increase will automatically go into effect under the county ordinance, which gives cities a deadline of June 22 to signal support.
Several municipalities across the county have already passed resolutions of support — including Millcreek, Midvale, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville, Murray, Holladay, Alta, Emigration, Kearns, Magna and White City — but the tax hike may hinge on Salt Lake City's position, since the capital represents the largest share of the county's population.
The Copperton Town Council approved a resolution last month opposing the resolution, while some leaders from Riverton, Herriman and West Jordan have expressed reluctance to support the tax hike, but haven't yet voted.
In her statement, Biskupski noted that she supported Salt Lake City's recently passed half-penny sales tax hike — allowed as part of the law relocating the Utah State Prison to the city's northwest quadrant — to pay for streets, police, affordable housing and transit, as well as the opportunity to ask voters to support an $87 million general obligation bond this November to also pay for infrastructure projects.
"I strongly believe the support the city has received for these funding options exists because of the comprehensive plans we have developed and the robust public engagement we underwent," Biskupski said. "It is also important to recognize, the difference between 'no' and 'not right now.'
"While the Legislature left it to the counties to activate this sales tax increase, they also provide a path for cities to take action, a path which puts more control of the funding into the hands of local communities," Biskupski added.
Biskupski called for the city to "take the time necessary to launch our local plans and coordinate with regional partners" to fund future transportation needs "in a strategic manner."
But Tuesday will be the Salt Lake City Council's last chance to vote on a resolution, under the county's deadline, to implement the tax hike with a revenue split of 40 percent to the Utah Transit Authority, 40 percent to cities and 20 percent to counties.
If the county does not impose the tax by June 2020, however, SB136 allows individual cities to act on their own, with no revenue going to the county. Cities with transit service — like Salt Lake City — would have the option to enact it through a vote of their councils, with 50 percent of its revenue to go directly to cities and 50 percent to UTA.
Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall has previously said she expects the council to pass the resolution.
Monday, Mendenhall said Biskupski's statement was "not a surprise," noting that council members have been "aware for several weeks" about the mayor's "reluctance" to support the tax hike.
Mendenhall said she's not sure how Tuesday's vote will go, but she stood firm on her belief the city could benefit from all the transportation dollars it can get. If it passes, Salt Lake City would reap about $5 million a year from the county tax hike, she said.7 comments on this story
"I'm unaware of any other city in the state that has (as) current and thorough analysis on roadway conditions as Salt Lake City does," Mendenhall said, referring to a city study that found two-thirds of the city's streets are rated poor or worse. "So there's no question that we need the money."
Mendenhall noted Tuesday's meeting will be "complicated" because the council will also be in the process of concluding its annual budget process, so "there's a lot of nuance in politics" that can play out.
"We'll have to see how it shakes out in the votes tomorrow," she said.