UTA's tax plans
The heck of it is, the Utah Transit Authority really does need additional revenue. And if its board and managers could stop running over their own institutional feet so often, they might well get it.
After all, in theory, who doesn't like public transit? The business community likes it because their employees use it to get to work and they don't have to provide so much expensive parking. Advocates for the poor like it because it is a way for people who cannot afford a car, or more than one car, to get to work and everywhere else. Friends of the elderly like it because it restores freedom of movement to folks whose sight or other faculties have deteriorated to the point that they can no longer drive their own vehicles.
Local and state government officials like it because it is one of the few alternatives available to the constant and expensive need to build more roads, highways and parking lots. And, especially in Utah, just about everyone who breathes likes it because it offers one of the best chances we have of taking the edge off of our frequently dreadful air quality.
Yet let some UTA executive so much as suggest that the system might need a significant hike in the quilt of local-option sales taxes that pay the bulk of the system's cost, and the immediate reaction from state lawmakers and others is so unwelcoming that the agency's public relations arm immediately went into damage control mode. The agency is denying that its clearly stated need for a 66 percent hike in its tax rate in order to restore cuts to bus service, increase the flat ridership and, one would hope, make fares more attractive amounts to a request for higher taxes.
Well, maybe UTA General Counsel Bruce Jones did not formally put the ask on members of the Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee when he recently outlined the system's plans. But he certainly made it clear that, if the system is to operate in a way that comes close to meeting the community's needs, a tax hike is in the cards.
The negative reaction Jones got from some members of that committee was not because lawmakers don't want a better transit system, or that they aren't willing to pay for it.
It was because the UTA's legendary tin ear has struck so many times, distributing executive bonuses, paying outgoing CEOs exorbitant severance packages and, just the other day, jetting four UTA honchos off to Switzerland to eyeball that country's mountain transportation systems.
The tax rate UTA is contemplating, going up to a penny on every dollar of taxable purchases, is not out of line. Sadly, though, the agency has earned a reputation as a spendthrift outfit that loses sight of the people most dependent on public transit. And that will make it very difficult indeed to put together the coalition of advocates that would otherwise have a very good shot at getting voters to approve that tax rate.