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Utah's cities asked state legislators Wednesday to allow them to raise local sales taxes to improve local roads.
That comes on top of many other requests for higher transportation taxes.
Lawmakers have already been asked to authorize local governments to raise sales taxes to boost funding for the Utah Transit Authority's buses and trains. And a coalition of business and civic leaders is also pushing to raise gasoline taxes or other fees to cover a projected $11 billion deficit in the state's unified transportation plan through 2040.
But mayors on Wednesday told the Transportation Interim Committee those other proposed tax increases would not fix worsening problems with local roads. They want lawmakers to raise caps on local sales taxes for transportation, and allow local elections on whether to actually raise them. They did not yet recommend a specific amount, but said that may come later.
Cities and towns face a combined $150 million shortfall each year for local-road maintenance, said Ken Bullock, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Cities and counties now receive 30 percent of gasoline taxes collected by the state for local roads, distributed according to a formula based on population and mileage. But the 24.5 cents-a-gallon state tax has not been raised since 1997. Also, gas-tax revenues have dropped as vehicles achieve better gasoline mileage, and more people drive electric or alternate-fuel vehicles that escape the tax.
Mayors said decreasing gasoline-tax revenues have forced cities to divert money from other pressing needs to fix and maintain roads, but even with that they have fallen behind.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker said his city annually spends "$1.3 million on our road maintenance. We are $1.4 million short."
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said his city receives $2.5 million from gasoline taxes, and spends another $3.2 million out of its general fund for roads. "We're barely treading water," Caldwell said.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, asked mayors if they are willing to try to push a sales-tax increase to voters, and "can you really sell that to your voters or will you get voted out of office for raising their taxes?"
"I don't know. I think so," Walker replied. "The reality is government should provide a limited amount of services. But, certainly, transportation is something we need to provide. Roads are key…. We have to deal with this problem."
Walker added, "I'm certainly willing as a mayor to go to my citizens and explain transportation needs. I think people understand they need to get to work, and need to be able to get to school. It's something we need to promote."
Walker added that raising the sales tax on all items not just fuel is probably a fair way to fund transportation because every consumer good "had to travel on a road somewhere to get to a store."
"Without the ability to move people and products," added Caldwell, "it will completely choke-hold our economy," and said many cities are reaching that point.
The committee is scheduled to hold a retreat in Vernal next month to discuss how to fund competing transportation needs.
It has already been asked to raise the cap on sales tax for UTA to 1 cent per $1 in sales. Currently, such taxes are .69 cents per $1 in Salt Lake County. Davis, Utah, Weber and Box Elder county residents pay .55 cents, and Tooele pays .3 cents.
The Salt Lake Chamber's Utah Transportation Coalition asked the Transportation Interim Committee Wednesday to look at a variety of taxes and fees to cover a projected $11 billion shortfall for projects included in the state's unified transportation plan through 2040.
Also on Wednesday, the Utah Department of Transportation told the committee it is falling $40 million short a year for road maintenance, and another $27 million short on bridge maintenance.