Sometimes Utah legislators just get no respect. And little credit, either.
But now some lawmakers are fed up, and they may pass a law to penalize county officials who in the future don't at least give legislators credit for good deeds.Monday, legislators on a state property tax task force were unhappy to learn that, in the July assessments of seven of 29 counties, property owners weren't told that lawmakers and Gov. Mike Leavitt were responsible for lowering their property taxes this year.
Two of the offending counties are among the state's most populous - Davis and Weber.
"I don't know what to say to my former friends in county government," said Rep. Ray Short, only half-jokingly.
Legislative staffers say that county auditors in Weber, Davis, Sanpete, Morgan, Carbon, Emery and Iron counties failed to fully describe in July assessment mailings how the Legislature lowered the basic school levy from 1994 to 1995. The lower levies, combined with increasing the homeowner exemption, saved property taxpayers $90 million and avoided another $50 million in tax hikes.
Other county auditors may have technically met the law in showing basic school levy changes, but they didn't properly include in the assessment notice language giving credit for lower taxes to the Legislature and Leavitt.
"I saw a copy of the Rich County assessment on one property and they (Rich County officials) made it sound like they gave the tax cut," complained Short, a Holladay Republican who's been one leader in the homeowner tax-cutting fight.
As part of their $90 million property tax cut this year, legislators and Leavitt specifically required county officials to give them credit for the cuts in official property tax mailings, which are handled by county officials.
Well, disgruntled lawmakers have one more shot. Some July assessments - with accompanying estimates of property tax cuts and/or tax hikes in 1995 - may have been less-than-complete.
But come November the actual property tax notices will be sent out, and county officials are again ordered by law to include language passed by the 1995 Legislature that specifically says tax cuts were given by lawmakers and Leavitt.
In the case of tax increases - like in Salt Lake County and older homes in Davis County - homeowners must be told how much higher their taxes would have been if Leavitt and lawmakers hadn't acted to lower rates.
In defense of some counties' July assessments, the congratulatory language about lawmakers' and Leavitt's actions couldn't fit into computer programs that print the assessments, said several state Tax Commission officials.
The current law contains no penalty for failing to include the congratulatory language.