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Bill ensuring UTA follows priorities for Prop. 1 tax dollars advanced by Utah House committee

SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee advanced a bill Tuesday intended to make sure the Utah Transit Authority follows priorities set by county officials when spending money raised through a sales tax hike approved by voters in 2015.

The sponsor of HB339, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, told members of the House Political Subdivisions Committee that UTA needs to "stick to the list" of priorities put together by county officials.

Froerer said that's not always happening when it comes to the local option sales tax approved by Weber County voters known as Proposition 1 that sets aside 40 percent of the county's .05 cent share of that increase for transit projects.

The local option sales tax increase that added up to a penny on every $4 in purchases was rejected in seven of the 17 counties where it was on the ballot, including by voters in Salt Lake and Utah counties.

Toby Mileski, a former Pleasant View mayor selected to serve as the northern Utah representative on the UTA board, said the transit agency isn't following through on a top priority for the county.

Mileski said that instead of focusing on developing a bus rapid transit system that would "greatly benefit" Weber County, UTA is spending Proposition 1 money on improving bus shelters and expanding bus service.

Matt Sibul, UTA government relations director, told the committee there is "no disagreement from UTA about the capital priorities Weber County has" and that the agency is committed to bus rapid transit in the area.

"We've made that clear over past several years," Sibul said. "It’s a great project."

He said capital projects have to be balanced with adding service.

"We hear this more than anybody, about the needs the community has on bus service," Sibul said. He said UTA will continue "to negotiate with policymakers about how funding can can come together from all sorts of sources."

The bill was advanced to the full House 8-1, with only Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, opposed. Weight said she was "uncertain whether collaboration was being addressed, or concern about control."

Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, said she supported the bill because she believes Proposition 1 voters were "under the express understanding that this money would come back to their local issues" as determined by local officials.

After the hearing, Froerer said he is talking with the co-chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force about incorporating his concerns into the task force legislation.

The task force's sweeping bill, SB136, includes an overhaul of how UTA is run, replacing the current 16-member board with three full-time members charged with managing the transit agency.

Also, the task force bill would impose a tax increase in counties that have failed to approve all of the local option sales taxes available for transportation needs, including Proposition 1.