About a dozen Utah legislators recently attended the Salt Lake Valley Conference of Mayors meeting at the new Living Planet Aquarium in Draper, where the discussion (hide your eyes) focused on tax increases.
The conference is an informal group of mayors in the valley who routinely get together for lunch to discuss various issues.
Many of the mayors in Salt Lake County have been hankering for a revenue enhancement to pay for needed road repairs and expansion as well as mass transit needs.
And some more enlightened Republican lawmakers are beginning to understand that mass transit must have its place in the transportation picture. They especially seem to understand that requirement in January and February, when legislators from throughout the state are in Salt Lake City for the legislative general session and choke on the inversion-tainted air just like the capital city’s full-time population.
But let’s face it, Republicans talking about tax increases in Utah would be like Donner Party members pouring barbecue sauce on themselves.
Yet there they were, talking about it at the aquarium, which is not the usual place for such a meeting, but the mayors wanted to show off Salt Lake County’s newest cultural addition.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, both spoke of the need for increased revenue remedies to face Utah’s myriad transportation needs.
Anderson sponsored legislation last session that would have increased sales taxes by .26 percent for transportation, but it failed to get past the House Transportation Committee. Another Anderson-sponsored bill to provide for a local option sales tax increase passed the House but didn’t get a vote in the Senate.
Some legislators openly discussed the possibility that a sales tax increase might have a better chance in the 2015 legislative session because it will be after the election this fall.
Expect tax increase talk to be kept pretty much under wrap, even at the monthly legislative interim committee meetings, until after the November election.
The Legislature in 2011 hung an albatross around the state’s neck when it passed a bill earmarking 30 percent of sales tax income growth for roads. That amounted to an estimated $60 million a year of sales tax revenue required to be spent on transportation.
Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed that bill, noting it hamstrung the state’s ability to meet other needs because it cannibalized the budget, just for transportation, without increasing the revenue stream.
The Legislature, in all its Tea Party zeal that year, overrode the governor’s veto and that now is the law. After all, no self-respecting Republican, a year after the Tea Party revolution, would ever stand for any kind of tax increase. They would rather see a bridge collapse first.
But now, it seems, some conservatives are willing to consider a tax increase — after the election, of course.
During the meeting at the aquarium, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, complimented the Republican legislators for being willing to discuss tax increases, given that is such a taboo subject among much of the Republican base.
He couldn’t help point out a certain aspect of the scene as Anderson and Niederhauser stood at the portable podium that had been set up for the speakers.
The podium was in front of a giant shark tank, so as the legislators spoke of possible tax increases, the audience could see those hungry-looking sharks, swimming around in the background, right above the heads of the speakers.
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