Salt Lake County leaders could have their hands tied.
If HB371 passes, the County Council and mayor should be able to pick and choose which tourism projects will benefit from hotel tax dollars that the legislation would allow the county to continue to collect. But legislators seem to have already made up the county's collective mind: Lawmakers want funding for a permanent home for Real Salt Lake to come from hotel taxes.
"Nobody's actually said it to me, but certainly that's the implication," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said of the soccer stadium funding. "You listen to the walls up at the Legislature."
Not that partially funding the stadium through hotel taxes is a bad thing, Corroon said.
If the funding plan meets Corroon's set criteria, he said he is more than happy to help Real Salt Lake. And Council Chairman Cort Ashton said he's anxious to see exactly what the soccer team needs and how the county can help.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, would allow all counties in the state to levy a 1.25 percent hotel tax for tourism projects. Currently, Salt Lake County is the only county allowed hotel taxes, which has been used for Salt Palace expansion and for a parking lot Real Salt Lake wants to share with the busy South Towne Expo Center.
"What we're looking to do with this bill . . . is to authorize the other counties the opportunity to charge what Salt Lake County has," Clark said. "Aren't we better served having the people who come into the state help us promote?"
The House Business and Labor Standing Committee briefly discussed the bill Friday but continued the hearing to today.
Real Salt Lake plans to break ground on the 20,000-seat stadium within the year. With the rising price tag now at $145 million, the Major League Soccer team wants Salt Lake County to fund $45 million to pay for the infrastructure and land.
Corroon said he won't be comfortable allowing the hotel tax revenue to go to the soccer stadium unless the funding proposal meets these criteria:
The project and its funding must benefit all county residents.
Funding must come primarily from non-Utah residents.
The proposal must protect the county's triple-A bond rating.
Sandy must be a partner in the funding.
Real Salt Lake must support youth soccer programs in the county.
If the soccer team's funding proposal doesn't meet Corroon's standards, he said he won't sign off on it, despite what the Legislature wants.
"If we are presented something that doesn't make sense, we're not going to do it, bottom line," Corroon said. "But if we can help, we'll help. You never want to cross a legislator."
In an effort to curb inappropriate allocation of the hotel tax dollars, another bill would require counties to detail how the funds were used.
HB40 has won approval from the House and is awaiting a vote in the full Senate. Sponsor Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said a yearlong study of the hotel tax found that $60 million a year is generated by the tax in Utah.
"Are they really using it for tourism promotion?" Adams said.
In related news, Salt Lake City is finally accepting defeat to Sandy in the battle over the location of the soccer stadium.
The City Council will close a lingering public comment period Tuesday night at its regular meeting about the city's plan to put the Real Salt Lake stadium on block 22 between Main Street and 200 West from 600 to 700 South. The team thwarted the city's plan when it announced that Sandy would host the stadium.
Contributing: Amelia Nielson-Stowell, Kersten Swinyard