Gov. Gary Herbert criticized a legislative task force's plan to earmark state sales taxes for a fund that would finance a Lake Powell water pipeline, though he said he would review the details before taking a position.
The idea, advanced by some lawmakers in committee meetings this week, is to send 15 percent of the future growth in sales-tax revenues to a water development fund making revolving loans.
"As a principle, I'm a little concerned about earmarking of any kind," the governor said Thursday at his monthly news conference at KUED. "I think the Legislature needs to have flexibility to address the budget based on the circumstances they find themselves in each and every legislative session."
That's the same position he took last session, when he vetoed a bill earmarking 30 percent of sales-tax growth to road projects. Legislators overrode his veto, though, and if they approve the water earmark this winter nearly half of new revenues expected as the economy recovers will be unavailable for general needs.
Several people who testified before an interim committee on Wednesday raised the same issue as the governor, and noted that the same population growth that would feed tax revenues also would require increasing services across the board. "That's also the fund out of which we're paying higher education," said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City.
The Powell pipeline, to supply water for projected population growth in the St. George area, is expected to cost more than $1 billion. The Legislature's Water Issues Task Force on Monday recommended that lawmakers consider bonding for the expense and servicing the debt with 15 percent of sales-tax growth beginning in 2014, when that could total $50 million.
The proposal would create a statewide fund that also could pay for a Bear River pipeline to supply the Salt Lake Valley later. But Herbert said he thinks each region should pay for its own projects.
"I would be concerned more about the fact if we're going to earmark it and have all the state subsidize and pay for a system that's only going to be used by southern Utah," he said. "I don't think that's good policy. I think the users of services ought to be the ones who pay for it."
Rep. Patrick Painter, R-Nephi, has said southern Utahns would pay for it, over time, by using construction reimburse fees to repay the loan fund. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said southern Utah deserves the help as much as northern Utah has when using statewide gas taxes to rebuild freeways.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.