This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Governmental entities that have the power to raise your taxes must no longer be insulated from public scrutiny and accountability.
One of the central causes of our American Revolution was the practice of government taxing people who had no power to hold that government accountable for its actions. Most of us like to think that this practice does not happen in our day, but there is one area that former Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, called "the hidden layer of government."
This "hidden layer of government" is our special or local districts. These are small units of government with the power to raise tax dollars to do one specific thing like water, sewers or mosquito abatement. Including school districts, these entities employ more people than the federal government and spend more tax dollars then every city government in the United States combined.
Special districts are an important part of our communities and governance. The problem is not that they exist. The problem is that in many cases they have the ability to tax without those making the decision to raise your taxes being directly accountable to you. Although I ran this bill last year, it has been made increasingly clear through recent audits of local districts like the Unified Fire Authority, that accountability for your tax dollars is not sufficient.
In the UFA case, misuse of taxpayer money and resources occurred with their board knowing little or nothing about the abuse. While the Unified Fire Authority board had "elected officials" on it, they represented the county itself and not the actual voters. This kind of governmental insulation led to a lack of oversight and control.
I am running a bill this session to help solve this issue. Senate Bill 94 ensures a special district that has the power to raise your local taxes is accountable to you in local elections. It will require that tax increases be approved by voters, by directly elected board members or by elected bodies of city and county governments. Like any form of government, these districts are not inherently corrupt. Special districts are important for the good of our society. However, our government must be for the people, by the people and accountable to the people at every level.
Especially in a "hidden layer of government," taxation without representation is still tyranny.
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore is a Utah state senator representing southwest Salt Lake County.