by Howard Stephenson

On May 13, the Utah Taxpayers Association will host our annual “Taxes Now” conference at Salt Lake’s Little America Hotel. The packed agenda will include Utah’s most influential policy leaders outline the impact of the 2008 Legislature’s decisions that affect business, the economy, and taxes, and preview the key issues Utah faces going forward.
Below are previews of some of the conference’s panels and speakers.

Preventing LA-style traffic in Utah

Traffic along the I-15 corridor gets worse every year, and as west-side communities grow those traffic problems go with them. While the number of cars on Utah streets goes up every year, staples of traditional transportation funding, the state gas tax and the federal government, are running out. More fuel efficient cars mean less gas tax revenue, and the federal government’s highway funds are stretched increasingly thin.
Cato Senior Scholar Randall O’Toole will open the conference by discussing how market forces will allow Utah to better use our existing transportation infrastructure, and how transportation markets can provide the revenue we need to improve and extend our highway system.

Budgeting for the worst, or Why Utah is the best managed state in the nation

Although budget projections suggest Utah will have the state’s 3rd largest budget in state history, legislators and economists see signs of possible trouble on the horizon. Having learned from the mistakes of previous legislatures, the 2008 Legislature adopted several measures designed to protect Utah’s fiscal soundness. Senate President John Valentine will explain why rainy day funds are so important, why the Legislature set aside $100 million of education money, and why zero-based budgeting is so important.

Utilizing market forces to manage transportation growth

Without the rebuild of I-15 in Utah County and the Mountain View highway, Utah’s economy will shrink. However, the cost of just these 2 projects will be between $4 billion and $6 billion, which could hinder the state’s ability to meet the other critical transportation needs. Senator Sheldon Killpack (Senate Majority Whip), Dan England (President, C.R. England Trucking), Stuart Adams (chair, Utah Transportation Commission), and Chuck Chappel (Executive Director, Wasatch Front Regional Council) will discuss solutions to Utah’s transportation funding problems, including how congestion pricing statewide will fit into Utah’s transportation funding mix.

Does the Granite School District’s $100 million RDA give-away mean it’s time for legislative restrictions on RDAs?

When the Legislature last reformed Utah’s redevelopment laws, school boards received veto authority over proposed RDAs, because public education advocates and the Legislature were unwilling to leave public school funding up to the discretion of cities and counties. However, the Granite School District’s decision to opt-in to 4 separate retail RDAs totaling $100 million raises serious questions about school districts’ abilities to distinguish economic development opportunities from corporate welfare. Senator Curt Bramble, the sponsor of the last RDA reform legislation, will join Holladay City Council member Barry Topham and Utah Taxpayers’ vice president Royce Van Tassell to discuss these critical questions.

Utah: Home of the “Nation’s Best” state & local privatization package

The package of privatization laws enacted by the 2008 Legislature Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Craig Frank the Reason Foundation’s “2008 Innovators in Action” award. To understand how these bills will affect state and local governments, Providence Mayor Randy Simmons and Rep. Craig Frank will outline the goals of privatization, and how Utah’s 2008 privatization package works.

Google government: Who else needs transparency in government finance?

As Utahns are squeezed at the gas pump and the grocery store, Utahns are increasingly demanding accountability for their tax dollars. To help every citizen see exactly how their tax dollars are working, Sen. Wayne Niederhauser sponsored Utah’s first transparency in government finance law and will now outline how citizens can access this online, searchable database, and discuss how and when local governments will create similar databases.

The Collapse of Utah’s Municipal Telecom Experiment

UTOPIA and iProvo have both failed spectacularly, though their member cities are approaching this failure in very different ways. While Provo wants to sell their fiber optic network, UTOPIA has asked its member cities to more than double their sales tax commitment. Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, UTOPIA interim Executive Director Jim Reams and Utah Taxpayers Association President Howard Stephenson will examine what lessons cities and the Legislature should draw from these eerily similar experiences.

How much will the Jordan School District split affect you?

The east side of the Jordan School District has seceded, and taxpayers across Salt Lake County and the state are feeling its effects. Will other districts follow suit? Under the new school building equalization law, how high will property taxes go to pay for the buildings necessary on the west side? House Speaker Greg Curtis will outline the 2008 Legislature’s solution, and describe the long term problems and solutions Utah faces.

Utah’s energy policy (or lack thereof): Can Utah’s economy continue to grow?

The prices of oil, natural gas and electricity are at an all-time high, yet Utah and the nation still have no energy policy. And as our state continues to grow, so too does our demand for ever more power. Nevertheless, neither the United States nor the State of Utah have adopted a formal energy policy. Rich Walje, president of Rocky Mountain Power, will discuss the economic impact of these troubling trends, and outline possible solutions.

Health system reform: Solving price increases and cost shifting

The costs of health care are skyrocketing, and many businesses have already stopped offering health care coverage to their employees. Unfortunately, the federal tax structure incents a separation of those purchasing health care (employers) from those using health care (individual families). House Majority Leader Rep. David Clark is leading a task force to address the solutions Utah is contemplating, and outline how we can connect health care consumers with paying the costs of health care.

What is the Supreme Court doing with the Voluntary Contributions Act?

Like Utah, Idaho adopted the Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA), which prohibits unions from collecting political contributions from their members without explicit, prior approval. As the UEA did in Utah, the Idaho unions challenged the VCA in court. So far various courts have reached contradictory answers, and at the request of both Idaho and the Utah Taxpayers Association, the Supreme Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of Idaho’s law. Attorney Maxwell Miller (Immediate past chair, Utah Taxpayers Association) will outline the status of this critical case, and several other important tax-related cases.

Keynote Addresses

Governor Jon Huntsman and National Taxpayers Union executive director Duane Parde will wrap up the conference. Governor Huntsman will outline his vision of the key issues Utah faces, including many of the issues discussed at this conference. Mr. Parde will place Utah’s experience in a national perspective, and help us better appreciate what Congress and the White House are doing on energy and tax policy.