Last year’s Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force has recommended a bill, SB0136, that increases taxes for transit projects, changes UTA’s governance to a three-member commission and makes electric vehicles pay more taxes. The main impetus for the bill was UTA’s poor reputation and the failure of Prop One two years ago.
Over the last two years, UTA’s management has significantly changed and no longer rubber-stamps staff recommendations. The arguments during board meetings have been more responsive to public questions and asking for data no longer is met with roadblocks. It isn’t perfect, but at least the present trustees will talk to and listen to concerns from taxpayers.
But SB0136 would significantly decrease accountability by giving management of UTA to three commissioners, who get to decide among themselves how to run UTA. They are not elected and will have no public responsibility unlike the 10 trustees who represent Salt Lake County municipalities and residents. The bill gives the county mayor the responsibility for choosing the one commissioner representing Salt Lake County.
The bill also ignores the vote of the public two years ago against the quarter-cent sales tax increase for UTA. The proposal was to give 40 percent of new funds to questionable projects, including a fancy TRAX Airport bridge, a tunnel in the canyons and a high-speed rail station. Only 6 percent of new funds were to go to service increases.
There is still not enough service to allow residents to go to shows and entertainment outside of the normal operating hours of UTA. Buses generally stop at 8:30 p.m. and generally don’t start until 7 a.m. TRAX stops at midnight!
The bill will implement the tax increase anyway and put the money into a capitol projects fund. Capital projects should be paid for by local value capture, or property assessments, not by state taxpayers to increase property owner’s value. Service will not receive any increased funding despite the fact that service increase is what mass transit riders and potential riders want. Spending 40 percent of transportation funding on mass transit when only 3 percent use mass transit ignores the best way to increase ridership, service increases.
When Los Angeles spent billions to build transit projects, the ridership did not increase much (it stayed at about 150 million per month between 2009 and 2017). The reason, according to a recent study, is because automobile sales significantly increased. People like the convenience and time savings of cars, even with rush hour congestion. Utah’s car sales doubled in the last 10 years and trying to emulate LA by spending billions on transit project appears to be a similar waste. I’d rather see more buses on our roads than trains replacing roads.
Another part of the bill significantly increases registration fees for electric vehicles to counter a decrease in gas tax revenue. But gas tax revenue has generally been going up (it was about $300 million last year). It is doubtful that electric vehicles will continue to have much impact on gas tax revenue. Electric vehicles also do not impact roads like the most popular vehicle, the Ford F150 truck. Taxing vehicles that have the least impact on our roads does not make sense and we should be encouraging electric vehicles that decrease air pollution. Electric vehicles comprise less than 1 percent of the cars on Utah roads. With the average vehicle lasting over ten years, the idea that electric vehicles are a threat to road funding is not realistic.
This increases taxes against the will of the voters and taxpayers and gives landowners and developers property value increases on the backs of taxpayers. The Legislature should listen to the voters. This bill is not the solution to increasing mass transit ridership. There is no data that makes sense to justify this bill. This bill does not increase service. Because this bill ignores voters, this is a turn around and bend over bill with a turn around and bend over tax increase.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of SLC and writes a blog at georgechapman.net.