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Auto-testing fuels debate

51% want price for emissions test to remain at $25

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Deseret Morning News graphic

While a vast majority of Salt Lake County residents agree that the air is bad enough to continue to require automobile emissions tests, a majority do not want to have to shop for the best price for such tests.

According to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll, conducted by Dan Jones and Associates Sept. 15-18, 51 percent of county residents would have preferred that the price of emissions tests remain at $25, while only 19 percent support a recent decision by the Salt Lake County Council to open such pricing to the free market.

The decision to remove any regulation from the auto emissions test prices was made after testing centers asked that county increase the maximum allowed price by $7.50, to $32.50. They feared that changes made by the Legislature that required cars 5 years old and newer to only be tested every other year — which they estimated to be 25 percent of their business — would drive many of the shops out of business.

After almost two months of debate, however, the council decided to allow the shops to charge any price they wanted, with advocates predicting that prices, after coupons and other specials, would actually drop below $25. Councilman Randy Horiuchi, one of the most vocal advocates of unregulated test prices, said that despite the poll results, he still thinks it was the best decision because he believes prices will drop and the county will not have to move to centralized testing as test centers go bankrupt.

"People don't like to pay more if they don't have to, especially in these tough economic times," he said. "But in the long run … it will be better for the county as long as we have decentralized testing."

Even at the time, he said that he was aware that opening emissions test prices up to market forces was not something that would receive applause from the public, at least initially.

"It was not a popular decision at the time, but it's one we'd all make again," he said.

Councilman David Wilde, who opposed removing the regulation on prices, said that he never saw good proof from station owners that demonstrated how they would lose money with a $25 fee. He also felt, during the debates, that most residents would have preferred to keep the prices capped.

"I'm not surprised at the numbers," he said. "I thought there would have been even more people who would have preferred to keep the controls in place."

Very few people disagreed with the requirement for emission testing, however, with 70 percent saying they thought the metropolitan air is dirty enough to need the tests, while only 23 percent felt that air is clean and the tests are not warranted.

Among respondents who identified themselves as somewhat or very conservative, 42 percent favored the free market system in this case, compared to only 29 percent of those who identified themselves as somewhat or very liberal. On the flip side, 25 percent of the somewhat and very liberal respondents preferred the increased flat fee of $32.50, compared to only 9 percent of those who were somewhat or very conservative.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com