Transportation Taxes and Watershed Protections

This week I want to focus on two additional bills that we’ve been discussing.

Transportation

The first is SB136, Transportation Governance Amendments. The State is looking at transportation needs for the future, especially with the anticipated population growth, and this bill makes several changes related to transportation. This includes items such as:

  • Changing the UTA governance structure from the current 16-member board to a 3 full-time member commission with a 9-member advisory board. The 3-member commission members would each serve a three-year term and would receive feedback and direction from the advisory board.
  • Increasing the registration fees for electric cars from $44 to $194, and for hybrids from $44 to $65. The intent of this increase is to collect revenue from vehicles that use roads but do not contribute as much revenue through gas tax. (There is pushback on the increase by those who feel owners of these vehicles should not be penalized as these vehicles help with air quality issues, but that debate needs its own blog post).
  • Implementing a road usage charge pilot program, which is a fee based on mileage. UDOT is performing this pilot program with 100 volunteers.
  • Imposing the fourth quarter-cent sales tax on counties that did not pass this in 2015.

This post will focus on the last bullet point above. State law allows counties to impose an additional sales tax for certain transportation needs. This sales tax is divided into four quarters and must be used as outlined in State code. Below is a table showing how these funds may be used.

Utah County has imposed the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter-cent sales taxes, but has not imposed the 4th quarter. You may recall that this proposed tax increase, known as Proposition 1, was defeated in seven counties, including Utah County. This proposal was for an increase of 0.25% with 40% going to UTA, 40% going to cities, and 20% going to counties. All funds would be for transportation projects. Many stated that while transportation funding is needed, residents rejected the increase because of the lack of trust many have in UTA.

As part of SB136, the State is now saying that counties will have until 2022 to impose the allowed quarter-cent sales taxes. If counties do not impose them, the State will and 100% of the revenue will go to the State. This bill also allows county commissioners to impose the taxes without going to a vote of the residents, though the commissioners still have the option to put it on a ballot if they so choose. If this bill passes, I would encourage Utah County residents to ask the Utah County Commissioners to impose the  4th quarter-cent. If we are going to be paying it we may as well have some of the revenue coming into our city and county to fund our roads and other transportation projects.

Watershed Protection

The other bill is HB135, Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Amendments. Currently, State law allows cities to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction for the purpose of maintaining and protecting watershed resources from injury and pollution. The law says that cities “are authorized and empowered to enact ordinances preventing pollution or contamination of the streams or watercourses from which the inhabitants of cities derive their water supply, in whole or in part, for domestic and culinary purposes.” This is important as cities are obligated to provide safe water to their residents and, as such, should be able to implement policies to protect those water resources. Cedar Hills did implement a Watershed Protection ordinance last month. This bill would remove many of the rights cities have to protect water resources. It instead gives authority to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to establish standards and administer controls to maintain water quality in watersheds. However, DEQ has stated they do not want this authority, nor do they have the resources needed to take on this responsibility. I am working with the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT) and other cities to oppose this bill. I would encourage residents to reach out to the bill sponsor (Rep Michael Noel, mnoel@kanab.net) as well as our local representatives (Rep Mike Kennedy, mikekennedy@le.utah.gov and Senator Dan Hemmert, dhemmert@le.utah.gov) to express opposition to this bill. I have heard that Rep Noel may be looking at rewording this bill to only include Salt Lake City, however, it still sets a precedent and would make it easier for the Legislature to remove this local authority from any city.

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