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SALT LAKE CITY — The proverbial fat lady has sung, closing the curtain on a controversial ballot measure aimed at raising funds for transportation improvements in several Utah counties.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen made the official announcement Tuesday during a County Council meeting. The measure failed in the county by approximately 2 percent after all ballots were counted.
The canvass showed that 88,198 (51.2 percent) county residents voted against the proposition, while just over 84,000 (48.8 percent) voted for the tax.
Swensen also told the County Council there were no changes to the preliminary results reported on Election Day.
The Proposition 1 ballot initiative sought to "provide funding for transportation improvements such as roads, sidewalks, trails, maintenance, bus and rail service, and safety features." The measure would have increased 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 have gone to the Utah Transit Authority in the six counties the agency serves, with the remaining funds going to county and city budgets for local road projects.
As expected, the results were exalting for critics of the sales tax initiative.
"Today is a great day for Salt Lake County taxpayers. After the property and gas tax hikes earlier this year, we're glad to see taxpayers stand up to these tax increases and say that enough is enough," said Evelyn Everton, director of the Utah chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which rallied against Proposition 1. "Voters have sent a clear directive to the UTA that it is time to get their house in order when it comes to how they direct tax dollars."
Such votes, Everton said, "really show the power of the grass roots in effecting positive change in our communities."
Abby Albrecht, director of the Utah Transportation Coalition and chairwoman of the pro-Proposition 1 campaign, said she was "disappointed that Salt Lake County will not realize the local benefits of Prop 1."
"Our cities face significant transportation funding shortfalls, mounting maintenance costs and growing populations," Albrecht said. "Without Prop 1, local officials and residents will be forced to consider potentially costly alternatives to addressing these needs."
As the county's population continues to grow, so will its ongoing transportation needs, she noted.
"Utah's transportation system is critical to our economy and future quality of life," Albrecht added. "We need to continue this conversation to find a way to close the gap between transportation needs and financial realities."
If the sales tax increase had passed, UTA had committed to use the funds to increase service — primarily bus service — on various routes along its service area.
Some critics argued that the initiative failed in part due to a negative public perception of UTA. The agency has come under fire over the years for its spending habits, including bonuses for its executive staff and international travel expenses.
UTA is currently taking steps to rebuild public confidence, and its trustees are on track to select a new general manager to guide its future.
While Salt Lake and Utah counties were among those in which the measure was defeated, other large counties approved Proposition 1, including Davis, Toole and Weber counties. Statewide, 10 counties approved the initiative, many of them rural counties where the revenues will provide city and county officials more options for transportation improvements.
"We are thrilled that Proposition 1 passed in 10 of 17 counties where it was on the ballot, especially in the heavily populated Davis and Weber counties," UTA spokesman Remi Barron said. "Before the vote even took place, we took public comment about what kinds of service people would want in their areas if Prop 1 were to pass. The consensus was that people wanted more bus connections to UTA's already robust commuter- and light-rail systems. In counties where it was successful inside UTA's service district, that's exactly what they will get."