This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 1996, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
June 8, 1993, was a gray day in Salt Lake County for local arts groups. Voters turned out in rainy weather to crush a proposed tax hike for museums, theaters, the symphony and 100 other cultural groups.
The measure failed largely because opponents portrayed it as taxing the poor to pay for the pleasures of the rich. The 3-2 margin of defeat was so discouraging, County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said it probably would not be tried again.
But recent changes to how the money can be used have convinced commissioners the forecast is much better, and they are ready to put the one-tenth of 1% sales-tax increase on the November ballot.
The 1996 Legislature added recreation sites to the list of potential beneficiaries. With support going to facilities used by a wider range of county residents, supporters believe the optional tax is more palatable to voters.
``We are trying to reach beyond the large arts to an interest level everyone can relate to, and parks and recreation are a big part of people's everyday lives,'' said Caroline Roemer, a member of People for a Nicer Community, a grass-roots coalition supporting the proposal.
The tax is expected to raise $13 million. Under the distribution formula, 30% of the money will go to recreation facilities and programs, 12.5% to zoological programs, 52.5% to botanical and cultural organizations with annual operating costs over $250,000 and 5% will go to botanical and cultural groups with budgets under $250,000.
``It makes a lot of sense to share the money with recreation,'' said Leslie Peterson, director of operations for the Utah Opera. ``We're all trying to address the same issues. Whether it's a basketball league or creating an opera, we're contributing to people's understanding of the world and the role they play in it.''
In the three years since the tax was defeated, arts groups have weathered cuts in federal funds. This summer, the Utah Symphony was forced to cancel most of its summer concert series for lack of funds.
Earlier this year, the state attorney general wiped out another funding source for cultural and recreation programs, ruling the transient room tax can be used for facilities but not programs.
Commission Chairman Brent Overson said the county can't afford to use general-fund money to help organizations that used to be funded by the $6 million from the hotel tax. Next year, the county will have less of that money for pools and parks because bond payments increase on the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Overson said putting the proposal on the general-election ballot, rather than a special election as in 1993, could boost voter approval. But supporters say that doesn't give them much time to educate the public.
One of the main criticisms in 1993 was that the matter was rushed. The Utah Foundation complained that residents were given too little time to fully debate the proposal.
Roemer said her group will have to rely on word of mouth to get the message out because the group doesn't have enough money for glitzy TV commercials.
That is why the wording on the ballot will be crucial, said Bonnie Stephens, executive director of the Utah Arts Council.
``You don't want to ask people to do something they don't understand,'' she said. ``Everyone needs to feel like they are players in what happens.''