The members of the Utah Legislature are so clever, some of them, that they can raise taxes without raising taxes. That’s a good thing.
The ongoing Wasatch Front population boom is going to put more cars on the road and more pollution in the air, creating a riding demand, and need, for public transit.
In the face of this, we have a state that has not raised its gasoline tax since 1997 and that has a patchwork of transit-supporting sales taxes that are well below the level that most urban areas rely on.
It’s time to catch up.
Before the Utah Legislature right now, in the closing days of its 2014 regular session, are two bills that would help provide the state and its communities with the means to upgrade both our highways and our public transit services. Both of them should be approved.
One is Senate Bill 60, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. It would significantly restructure the way the state collects fuel taxes, the core of transportation funding, by moving away from a strict per-gallon levy to one partly based on the price of gasoline.
A rate that has not moved in so many years and the rise of more fuel-efficient autos means that the funds available to build and maintain a highway and transit system have not kept up with inflation. SB60 would use a new formula that would be revenue neutral the first year, then count on the rising price of fuel to boost the funds available by some $39 million a year — at an average annual cost to motorists of $18.
The other is House Bill 388, described by its sponsors as "A quarter for clean air" because it would allow counties to ask their voters to raise the local sales taxes devoted to public transit by up to a quarter of a cent on the dollar. That would put the local sales tax effort at closer to the penny-per-dollar found in most metropolitan areas.
The millions of dollars that would raise would allow the Utah Transit Authority to restore and expand many of the bus routes that have been trimmed in recent years as so much of its resources were plowed into the expansion of its rail services, TRAX and FrontRunner.
Those behind these proposed levies are clever enough to allow the Legislature to do its duty — raising the money needed for essential public services — without having to take the politically unpalatable step of baldly raising taxes. It is a maneuver that wouldn’t be necessary, perhaps, in a more publicly spirited political climate.
But the bills are a good idea for doing what Utah needs done. They should both become law.
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