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Campaign promotes tax hike for transportation

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SALT LAKE CITY — While the campaign for the White House is grabbing the attention of many voters on a national scale, a campaign to enact a tax hike will be getting lots of interest in Utah from voters and political lobbying groups.

One group is preparing to wage a high-profile marketing effort to garner support for a proposed sales tax initiative slated to be on the November ballot in many of the state's most populous counties.

If approved by voters in the 17 counties proposing the tax increase, Proposition 1 would "provide funding for transportation improvements such as roads, sidewalks, trails, maintenance, bus and rail service and safety features." The measure would increase sales taxes — excluding food purchases — by a penny for every $4 spent to generate revenue to fund local transportation.

Forty percent of the tax money would go to the Utah Transit Authority in the six counties the agency serves, while the remaining funds would go to county and city budgets for local road projects.

Utahns for Responsible Transportation Investments — a political issues committee set up through Lt. Governor Spencer Cox's office — was formed to advocate for the proposed tax hike. The Salt Lake Chamber-affiliated political issues committee was specifically created to raise money to campaign for Proposition 1.

Director Abby Albrecht said the campaign will officially get underway later this month with advertisements in newspapers, on television, radio, billboards and online media, along with direct mail and telephone.

"We're going to work on educating the voter," she said. "It's our duty to educate them on the needs and what they are going to get from this."


They are having to completely redo these roadways instead of actively maintaining them as they should. They've stretched the dollar as far as they possibly can.

–Abby Albrecht, campaign director


The 17 counties that will be placing the proposed sales tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot are: Beaver, Box Elder, Carbon, Davis, Duchesne, Grand, Juab, Morgan, Rich, San Juan, Salt Lake, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Uintah, Utah and Weber.

Albrecht said there hasn't been an increase in transportation funding since the late '90s, so this tax increase is required to meet the ongoing needs of a growing population in areas across Utah. Due to lack of adequate funding, many communities have been forced to defer maintenance or transportation improvements over the years, she said, and the time has come to address those issues before it's too late.

"(The communities) are paying more to repair their roads, they're impacting the driving public more because they are having to completely redo these roadways instead of actively maintaining them as they should," she said. "They've stretched the dollar as far as they possibly can."

She added that as the population continues to grow, the need for improved roads will only grow along with it.

Albrecht declined to offer a specific amount that the committee was estimating to spend on ads, but said the campaign will be publicized on numerous media outlets across all platforms. The committee has already raised nearly $282,000 through private sector contributions.

"We have a very interested group of donors that see this (campaign) as an economic benefit to the state," she said.

The best solution?

While supporters believe the proposed tax hike would offer the funding necessary to pay for transportation for years to come, some are not convinced that raising taxes is the best solution.

The Utah chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the main political advocacy group for influential billionaire industrialists the Koch brothers, warns that the proposal would be just another tax that would hurt local working families.


Why not wait and see if that funding is adequate before asking for more money from taxpayers?

–Evelyn Everton, state director


"No matter how fancy the marketing campaign is, it's still designed to take more money out of Utah families' paychecks," said state director Evelyn Everton. "Voters need to be aware of where their money is actually going."

The chapter's goal is to build a grass-roots network to push for "sound economic principles," she said when the chapter was introduced in May. Everton said this is exactly the type of issue that the organization wants to fight against.

"Taxpayers are already paying money to a lot of these services, so we'd ask that the cities and counties prioritize their budgets with the taxpayer dollars that they're already getting," Everton said.

HB362

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed HB362 that allows the proposed sales tax to be placed on the ballot to address a statewide deficit for transportation projects and maintenance.

A recent Utah League of Cities and Towns study showed a gap of more than 60 percent between local transportation needs and current allocation of road funds, resulting in statewide deterioration of local roads.

HB362 will raise Utah's fuel tax by 5 cents per gallon starting Jan. 1, which will generate an estimated $25 million in 2016 and $76 million in 2017. If voters approve the local tax statewide, it would generate more than $145 million by 2017, which legislative analysts estimate could cost an average person between $40 and $50 per year.

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Pointing to the gas tax and a $75 million property tax increase also passed earlier this year, Everton said Utahns are already facing a large amount of tax increases this year.

"Why not wait and see if that funding is adequate before asking for more money from taxpayers?" she said.

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Jasen Lee

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