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Northern Utah residents to vote on transit tax

Hike would fund roads, possibly commuter rail

Passengers walk next to the FrontRunner train following the commuter rail's inaugural round trip from Woods Cross to Kaysville on Thursday.
Passengers walk next to the FrontRunner train following the commuter rail's inaugural round trip from Woods Cross to Kaysville on Thursday.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

As in Salt Lake and Utah counties last year, voters in Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties will decide on Election Day 2007 whether to raise taxes to fund new roads, and possibly mass transit.

Supporters of the tax hike, titled Opinion Question One, say residents will see economic benefits and an improved quality of life if the measure is passed. But there are big concerns whether voters will support it, particularly in south Davis County.

"We have done a poll that showed 57 percent of south Davis would vote yes," said campaign spokesman Steve Handy. "But you know that falls off when a person goes into the polling booth and realizes: 'Wait, I'm voting to increase my taxes."'

The concerns:

• Voters may be anti-tax as a result of recent property-value and property-tax increases in Davis and Weber counties.

• Voters may confuse the tax question with another question on the ballot about school vouchers: Statewide Referendum One.

• Not all city leaders in Davis County support the deal.

• Voters in Weber and Davis don't have a specific list of projects that would be funded by the tax hike, just a general list of about 35.

The question asks Davis and Weber voters if they support a quarter-cent sales-tax increase for congestion mitigation, corridor preservation and road expansion. In Box Elder County, residents of three cities are being asked to approve the tax hike to study a possible expansion of commuter rail to Brigham City.

Monica Holdaway, executive director of the Brigham City Area Chamber of Commerce, says revenue from the tax, if passed, would be about $800,000 a year, which could bring FrontRunner commuter rail to southern Box Elder County 10 to 15 years earlier than planned.

Opponents of the tax, however, say enough tax dollars already fund transportation and transit and that a further tax is overkill.

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of, wrote against the proposal in the county's voter information guide. He stated that four property-tax increases already have been enacted in Davis County, as well as a $10 increase in vehicle-fee registrations in Davis and Weber counties for corridor preservation.

"Why don't governments better prioritize and manage the billions of dollars that they collect rather than increasing taxes?" Mortensen wrote.

Royce Van Tassell, Utah Taxpayers Association vice president, takes aim at the mentality behind imposing what appears to be a relatively easy tax to stomach. People who spend an extra quarter of a penny on every dollar aren't going to notice that expense, Van Tassell says.

"It provides no incentive to use infrastructure cost-effectively," he said.

Instead of using sales-tax dollars to fund further transportation and transit construction, the Legislature should impose a fee for drivers who use the highways during the most congested times, Van Tassell said.

The Legislature also could opt to increase the tax on gasoline by 25 cents, which would generate $350 million a year, he said.

Supporters say there is little appetite for a gas-tax increase. But if approved, the money could fund projects such as buying land for a future northern extension of the Legacy Parkway in Davis County, supporters say. In Weber County, money could be used to expand and improve east-west roads.

The cost to the average family in Davis, Weber and Box Elder will be about $104 per year. As of last month, the campaign had raised about $112,500 to promote the opinion question, according to the most recent financial disclosure form filed with the state.

"These projects are so critical to the long-term health of the community," said Dave Hardman, president of the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce, which is leading campaign efforts in Weber County.

Hardman said nearly all city officials in Weber and Box Elder counties have decided to publicly endorse the opinion question. The exception is two small cities in Weber that just had property-tax increase as result of high home valuations, he said.

The Wasatch Front Regional Council, which does long-range transportation planning for much of the Wasatch Front, took action Thursday to endorse the proposed increase in Davis and Weber Counties. The council said in a statement that voting yes will "make a real difference in people's lives in the near term."