Cities and counties throughout Utah have begun the process of allowing voters to decide in November on a sales tax increase to expand and improve transportation infrastructure. Polls have shown public support for the move, and there is a pressing need to catch up on needed repair and construction work that’s been put off because of a lack of money.
The Legislature approved a measure that would allow cities and counties to propose to voters an increase in the sales tax of 0.25 percent, which would amount to a penny for every $4 spent. In Salt Lake County, the measure would raise about $50 million for road repair, expansion of mass transit and other projects, including sidewalks and bike and pedestrian trails. If approved statewide, about $150 million would be raised.
All over Utah the need for new money is visible along roadways where governments have been unable to keep up with the cycle of deterioration. The condition of transportation infrastructure is a vital component of an economically healthy community, which explains why the measure enjoys significant support. A poll last April showed nearly 55 percent of voters would lean toward approving a tax hike.
There has been little dissent over the need to increase transportation funding, though there has been debate over the best way to do it. The Utah Taxpayers Association prefers a user fee approach, increasing fuel taxes, registration fees and other levies associated with vehicle use. The plan adopted by the Legislature wisely puts the decision in the hands of voters, who all have a stake in the condition of the state’s infrastructure. “Transportation is the backbone of our economy,” said David Golden, chairman of the Utah Transportation Coalition. “By enhancing and preserving our local roads, active transportation and transit system, we’ll help to keep Utah one of the best places to work, to live and to play.”
Indeed, a period of austerity forced by the 2008 recession has resulted in a backlog of repair work, and civic leaders are increasingly faced with mounting bills for deferred maintenance in many areas. As we enjoy a period of modest prosperity, it’s time to try and catch up on those projects. The legislative action calls on cities and counties to adopt resolutions to put the sales tax proposal on the 2015 ballot.
Any tax increases should be predicated on an imperative need, which the current state of the transportation system unquestionably represents. We hope that local leaders continue to support ballot resolutions and that voters will ultimately decide in favor of fixing up systems vital to public and economic mobility.