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Fur flies as GOP reverses Demos’ vote for tax boost

SHARE Fur flies as GOP reverses Demos’ vote for tax boost

The most politically divisive and bitterly charged Salt Lake County Council meeting in the group's young history played out amid a pair of contradictory votes that followed party lines.

In one corner the three Democrats who are the minority on the nine-member council seized an opportunity for control when some of the Republicans were late returning from lunch.

Charging out of the other corner were the four errant Republicans who were outraged when they learned an issue they wanted input on had already been decided in their absence.

They quickly brought it back to the table, and, in a subsequent vote, nullified the furtive action that had happened earlier.

"There was a meanness exhibited when you found out it had passed," Democrat Jim Bradley chided. "It was a wickedness of sorts and I direct this at you," he told Republican County Council member Russell Skousen. "I think you ought to do some soul searching."

The battle ax wielded in last week's working session came as a result of discord over a proposal to let voters decide if a sales tax increase is warranted to fund transitional housing for the homeless.

Proponent Jack Gallivan, former publisher of the Salt Lake Tribune, asked the County Council to join other agencies and government organizations to give a nod of support in asking legislators to pass a law so the issue can go to the ballot this fall.

The county lacks the statutory authority to throw the proposal out there on its own and needs state lawmakers to pass "enabling" legislation.

Under Gallivan's proposal, the council would get nine months to do the research to determine the need for the homeless, craft the language on a possible referendum and then decide if it wants to put it on the ballot for voter approval.

Gallivan said his proposal is merely "permissive," and not mandatory, meaning the County Council could ultimately decide it's not something to put to a public vote. Gallivan has talked repeatedly of an annual shortfall of $7 million among agencies attempting to get the homeless off the streets, into housing and on the way to self-sufficiency. His proposal would allow voters to decide if an additional one fourth of 1 percent of the sales tax levied in Salt Lake County over a four-year-period could go toward a $150 million endowment to address those needs. He has also talked of an "indefinite" one twentieth of 1 percent that could accomplish the same goal.

The Democrats, however, have been well aware of the Republican reluctance to endorse the proposal, especially after a vote two weeks ago to "table indefinitely" Gallivan's measure.

When four of the Republicans were late returning from lunch, fellow Republican Steve Harmsen agreed to get the meeting started to take care of "housekeeping issues." Before a roomful of waiting people, including Gallivan, Bradley made the motion to endorse Gallivan's measure. He received support from Democratic colleagues Joe Hatch and Randy Horiuchi. The two Republican councilmen in the room, Harmsen and former chair Marv Hendrickson, took different routes on the surprise action, with Harmsen voting "no" and Hendrickson deciding to stay out of the fray by abstaining.

Less than an hour later, the Gallivan endorsement turned into a "non-endorsement" when Skousen brought the issue to a second vote, and it fumbled on a straight party vote of six to three.

Skousen and Republican Michael Jensen accused their minority partners of deliberately bringing the issue up in their absence because the Democrats knew the vote would otherwise fail.

Hatch, saying it was "absolutely disgraceful," accused his Republican counterparts of engaging in knee jerk extremist views to kill a chance to let voters decide a critical issue.

"The extremists always run and hide," he said. "This doesn't bind us to anything, it is just to consider. It doesn't say we are going to do it, but you are afraid of the public debate."

Afterward, Gallivan was disappointed and frustrated.

"I'll still go the Legislature, but I don't understand why they don't trust the people who elected them to make good decisions."


E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com