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The entire Wasatch Front will now vote Nov. 3 on whether to raise local sales taxes for transportation.
The Utah, Davis and Weber county commissions voted Tuesday to put the issue on the ballot. They join Salt Lake County, which approved that move two weeks ago, along with several smaller counties that have given their OK.
The votes were unanimous in Davis and Weber counties, where commissioners said relatively little or no opposition was voiced.
But a parade of residents opposed it at the Utah County Commission meeting complaining that the vote will come in a municipal election when turnout is usually low and arguing that too much money would go to the sometimes-controversial Utah Transit Authority (UTA). That commission passed it 2-1.
At issue is whether to raise sales taxes by a penny for every $4 in sales as authorized by the Legislature this year.
In counties where transit districts such as UTA exist, 40 percent of the money would go for bus and train service, and the rest would go to cities and counties for local roads. In counties without transit districts, all the money would be divided among cities and counties.
Local governments have pushed for years for such an increase, arguing they had to delay road projects because their portion of state gasoline tax no longer covers their needs in large part because that tax had not been raised in 18 years (although it finally will rise by 5 cents a gallon Jan. 1).
The office of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday that it plans to have the ballot issue called "Proposition One" in all counties where it will appear, to lessen any possible confusion by calling it by different names in different places.
A large, vocal crowd opposed the tax hike in the Utah County Commission meeting in Provo.
Many, like Alpine resident Theodore York, said they are tired of constantly fighting little tax hikes, which add up to big money.
"Why don't we just get it over with and end the debate, and increase taxes to 100 percent of our income and be done with it?" he said, as several others called out "yes" with him or applauded.
"We are being taxed way too much," and for the wrong things, Orem resident Cathy Young added. "I'd rather have my tax money go to a homeless shelter. I'd rather help a single mom so that she can afford groceries."
Heather Williamson, representing Americans for Prosperity, complained about the 40 percent of the tax that would go to UTA, noting that audits and news reports have identified possible sweetheart deals with contractors, high salaries and bonuses, and extensive executive travel.
"This government entity is asking for more money because it has paid itself into debt," she said, "and now it is asking me and other county residents to restrain our budgets even more to pay for its lack of basic budgeting skills."
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee cast the lone vote against putting the tax hike on the ballot. He said that while some city councils initially passed resolutions supporting it, several of their members later contacted him with second thoughts.
Saratoga Springs, American Fork and Mapleton leaders strongly opposed it, he said, and some wanted to perhaps go back to the Legislature to see about removing UTA from the equation.
Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson, a member of the UTA Board and its past chairman, said he favors allowing a vote in part because he believes solutions to transportation problems should include transit.
He also said the ballot measure allows voters to choose whether to proceed.
Utah County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson warned, as did several residents, that the voter turnout will be lower this year than next. He said the past municipal election had a turnout of 17.5 percent, compared with 79 percent for the most recent presidential election.
Thompson said holding the election this year will also cost the county more: He estimated an extra $60,000, compared to $1,500 or less if it was put off until next year. At Thompson's recommendation, the Utah County Commission voted to require all cities to halt any plans for mostly by-mail elections Nov. 3, to instead conduct regular elections mostly at polling places. It said that is to ensure "equal access" on the sales-tax question by having all areas vote in the same manner.
The track record to date indicates by-mail elections have much greater voter participation cities during last week's primary election reported two to three times the turnout of previous municipal primaries conducted the traditional way.
Elsewhere, Davis County Commission Chairman Bret Millburn said no opposition was voiced there Tuesday, although advocates and critics spoke up at a separate meeting a few weeks ago.
He said he favors holding the election because "it's a great opportunity for citizens to weigh in," and "it is much more financially responsible to spend some money now rather than spending much more later" by not keeping up with road maintenance.
Holin Wilbanks, Weber County public affairs director, said mayors appeared at the Weber County Commission's meeting to push the tax increase to cover their road needs, and not much opposition was voiced.