This page has always stood firmly in favor of protecting a good measure of the remaining open spaces in Utah. There is no substitute for wisely managing the growth that is rapidly changing the state. The Legislature's decision in recent years to barely put any money into a fund that exists to do this has been disgraceful. It defies the lessons that were at the heart of former Gov. Mike Leavitt's highly touted Growth Summit a few years back.
Unfortunately, however, Initiative 1 is not the way to rectify the problem. It is a bundle of good intentions wrapped heavily in unrelated strings. It deserves to be defeated.
Initiative 1 would raise your sales taxes by 1/20 of 1 cent to borrow up to $150 million in bonds. That money would be given to the Quality Growth Commission, which would spend most of it on preserving lakes, rivers, wildlife, farms, ranches, historical sites, parks and open spaces, and on improving water and air quality. That all sounds great, and it was enough to garner our support when the initial concept was announced. But the details ought to give every taxpayer pause.
Chief among these is a provision that allows for the use of about $30 million for "community projects." Of this, up to $25 million could be used to build convention centers or athletic facilities, and $5 million would be given to the director of the State Museum of Natural History.
In a real sense, this initiative was a victim of the state's strict new initiative law, which requires the people proposing an initiative to hold a series of public hearings statewide. In rural areas, people balked at signing petitions for something they perceived as doing little for their own neglected local economy. The convention center provision was added to help lure their support. That's understandable. Unfortunately, it taints the initiative irreparably. No matter how the matter is examined, the construction of convention and recreation centers does not qualify as preserving open space or promoting clean water or quality growth.
Worse than that, should the Quality Growth Commission decide to build a convention center in a rural city, there would be a question as to whether the state would own the facility. If not, would the commission have to pay local property taxes on the facility? Is it even constitutional for state tax revenues to go toward local taxes?
That is only one of the troubling questions this initiative raises. Another is that it would create a new form of bonding in the state — one that pledges all sales tax revenues should the 1/20 of a cent not cover bond payments.
Ultimately, questions about bonding and the allocation of precious resources belong with the state's elected representatives. Utahns should urge them to spend more on the preservation of the state's quickly disappearing land and its clean air and water. But Utahns should vote no on Initiative 1, which creates many more problems than it solves.