With just under ninety minutes remaining in the 2015 state legislative session, Utah Senator Lyle Hillyard (Republican – Logan) rose to decry the “buzzer-beater” bid for taxation and appropriation in the form of HB 420 – Revisions to Transportation Funding.
The substitute, sponsored in the House by Representative Johnny Anderson (Republican – Taylorsville) and sponsored in the Senate by Wayne Harper (Republican – Taylorsville) was a bid to create a funding mechanism that would allow state highway projects to receive funding priority by taxing Utahns via their vehicle registration and with increased sales taxes.
More importantly, the bill (now sitting on Governor Herbert’s desk) allows for the transfer of the general Transportation Investment Fund of 2005 to go towards the newly created “County of the First Class Highway Projects Fund.” This was a substitute funding bill that Anderson and Harper had been working on since the beginning of the legislative session in concert with players like the Utah Highway Users Association, an organization that, despite the grassroots sounding name, is largely populated by contractors.
During a year with a budget surplus in excess of $700 million, the state’s supermajority decided that they would be able to increase taxes and spend to their largest ability in years. In previous budgets, some have viewed transportation projects as funded at the expense of education priories, but in 2015 the surplus also camouflaged a host of tax increases on gasoline, real property, and other goods.
Vehicle registration fees just went up anywhere from $7.75 to $10 and those living within a transportation corridor project at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, funds may be appropriated for projects projected “beyond the normal four year programming horizon,” and deposited with the “Local Transportation Corridor Preservation Fund.” Beyond the vehicle registration fee increase, Anderson’s bill would allow cities to levy an additional 0.25% sales tax at the point of sale.
Other definitions contained within this HB 420 funding mechanism provide a tailor-made designation for the counties involved. As a bill defined specifically for Salt Lake City and County, it will allow for highway projects that support prison relocation (the actual relocation funded by a different $80 million, an appropriation second only to education funding this fiscal year. This is why Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has indicated that a new prison built on the city’s west side might be a real possibility.