This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is poised to take the helm of the National League of Cities, where he will push for a federal law requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes.
If passed by Congress, the Marketplace Fairness Act would bring an estimated $1 million to $2 million a year into Salt Lake City coffers, Becker said, and an estimated $120 million into Utah.
The league has been lobbying for the measure for a while.
"It's time for Congress to pass it," Becker said in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas. "We are mounting a full-fledged campaign. This is not a new tax; this is an existing tax that has gone unpaid."
The act also is supported by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures in which Utah leaders have prominent roles Gov. Gary Herbert is vice chairman of the former and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is president-elect of the latter.
All these groups have made the legislation a priority and have been pressuring Congress to bring it up during a lame-duck session before year's end. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he won't allow that to happen, and opponents warn of repercussions for politicians who ignore the unpopularity of the proposal.
"It's important for candidates and elected officials to take note and make sure that they are representing their constituents adequately," Lee Schalk, of the National Taxpayers Union, said earlier this year in releasing a poll indicating 52 percent of Utahns oppose the measure.
Becker will be sworn in Saturday as president of the league at the 2014 Congress of Cities in Austin. It's the league's 90th anniversary.
During the past decade or more, he explained, municipalities have shouldered more responsibility for social services, roads and bridges as partisan politics has brought Congress practically to a standstill.
"We are dumbfounded and disgusted with the paralysis in Washington," said Salt Lake City's two-term mayor. "Cities are beyond frustrated."
But Becker noted the Obama administration has been working to help municipalities in absence of congressional action. "Across party lines, this administration is seen as a best friend to cities ... to help us do our jobs."
As president of the league, Becker said he can "elevate" Salt Lake City's stature and perhaps bring (unspecified) benefits as a result.
Perhaps the biggest boon from participation in the National League of Cities is the connection it offers to representatives of the group's 19,000 members, who hail from the largest cities and the smallest villages in the land.
"It's energizing when I get together with my peers from around the country to see what's working and what isn't," Becker said. "It is a strong and potent function of this organization."
City leaders discuss topics such as public safety, pollution, education and other municipal necessities, he said. "It's an incredible broad and exciting range of things we can do in cities."
On the league's to-do list under Becker will be to push for more public-private partnerships. Another emphasis will be connecting kids to nature, the mayor said. "As we urbanize, we have fewer and fewer open spaces and natural settings."
This new initiative seeks strategies for getting young people outdoors in parks and natural areas. It will focus on youths in economically stressed communities.
Becker is nearing the final year of his second four-year term. He has not announced whether he will run for a third term.