by Howard Stephenson

On November 7, Utahns will be asked to vote YES or NO on several tax-related ballot questions. Statewide, taxpayers are being asked to vote on approximately twenty proposed tax increases. Some of the proposed property tax increases would fund general obligation bonds, which means that the tax increase is phased out when the bond is paid off, although some local governments try to raise operating levies when the bond levy is phased out. Other proposals – such as the sales tax increases in Utah and Salt Lake Counties for roads and transit – are permanent.

Voters should remember that approved property tax increases will be imposed on 2007 property tax bills. Due to Utah’s primary residential exemption, the impact on homes will be 45% less than for businesses. Utah has one the nation’s highest state/local tax and fee burdens.

Constitutional Amendment Number 1 – Vote Yes

Two characteristics of an efficient tax system are low compliance costs and low enforcement costs as a percent of collected tax revenue, and that’s why the Utah Taxpayers Association supports amendment 1.

Passage of amendment 1 would allow the Utah Legislature to exempt tangible personal property that would generate an “inconsequential amount of revenue” if subject to property taxes. Currently, non-vehicular residential personal property is exempt from taxation, but business personal property is not exempt from taxation. Amendment 1 would allow the Legislature to exempt very small businesses from paying personal property taxes on items such as cell phones, computers, and furnishings.

The Legislature has already passed HB338 (Rep. John Dougall) which would exempt businesses with total personal property of less than $3,500. HB338 becomes effective if amendment 1 passes. Compared to enforcement and compliance costs, government receives very little revenue from collecting taxes on personal property owned by very small businesses.

The Utah Taxpayers Association is neutral on the following issues:

Salt Lake County

Salt Lake County will be asking voters to approve three ballot measures.

Proposition 1 – Voters will be asked to approve the issuance of $65 million in bonds to construct and renovate various recreational projects. There is no tax increase associated with this project because the bonds will be paid with existing ZAP tax revenues.

Proposition 2 – Voters will be asked to approve $48 million in bonds to preserve open space. The tax impact on a $200,000 home would be $6.50 per year and $11.82 per year on a $200,000 business.

Proposition 3- Voters will be asked to approve a ¼ cent sales tax increase for transportation. If approved, the total sales tax rate in Salt Lake County will increase from 6.6% to 6.85%. The tax will raise an estimated $48 million per year to pay for transportation projects including roads, light rail, commuter rail, and corridor preservation.

The Utah Taxpayers Association was originally opposed to this proposal, but the Legislature implemented changes that benefit taxpayers. First, one-quarter of the increase will be used for preservation of transportation corridors. This is a wise use of tax dollars since the cost of land acquisition increases dramatically as development encroaches. By purchasing transportation corridors now before land prices escalate, taxpayers save money.

Second, the Legislature requires that governments in Salt Lake County implement a prioritization process that ranks each road and transit project based on the cost effectiveness of each project in reducing rush hour congestion. In recent years, the Legislature has required that all state road projects be prioritized based on cost effectiveness of addressing congestion. As a result of the September special session, the Legislature has extended the principle of prioritization to the 0.25% sales tax increase for mass transit and roads.

The impact on a median income, four-person family will be about $65 per year (The official county estimate is overstated.)

Utah County 0.25% Sales Tax Increase

Utah County taxpayers are being asked to support a 0.25% sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Of this increase, 87% will be used for commuter rail, 8% for road projects, and 5% for public transit. The tax is expected to raise about $16 million in its first year.

Proponents say the 0.25% sales tax hike will increase taxes per household by $97 per year. The association estimates that the tax increase for a typical median-income, four-person family will be closer to $65 per year.

Wasatch School District

The Wasatch School District will be asking voters to approve a $59.5 million bond to pay for the construction of a new high school. The tax impact of the proposed bond on a primary residence would be $78.32 per $100,000 and $143.32 per $100,000 on a business.

The Utah Taxpayers Association is concerned about the cost per student of the proposed new high school in Wasatch School District. Excluding land acquisition, fixtures, furnishings, and equipment, the proposed high school will cost approximately $30,000 to $33,000 per student. Alpine School District is building a high school in the Saratoga Springs area for approximately $21,000 per student. Construction costs should be measured on a per student basis instead of a per square foot basis because schools are intended to educate students, not square feet.

Alpine School District

The Alpine School district will be asking voters to approve a $230 million bond. The bond will be used to build a new high school, two new middle schools, and five new elementary schools. In addition, Orem High School will be rebuilt and Pleasant Grove, Lone Peak, and Mountain View High Schools will be expanded as will several elementary, junior high, and middle schools. The tax impact of the proposed bond on a $200,000 home is $24.86 per year and $45.20 on a $200,000 business.

The Alpine School District will also be asking voters to approve a voted leeway to increase operations spending. The tax impact of the voted leeway on a $200,000 home will be $33.00 per year and $60.00 on a $200,000 business.

Juab School District $17.5 million bond and voted leeway

Juab School District taxpayers are being asked to vote on a $17.5 million bond and a voted leeway of 0.0004. The bond will be used to fund construction of an elementary school, expansion of an elementary school, and renovation of an existing elementary.

The voted leeway would generate $250,000 annually and would be used to fund operational expenses of new school and maintain class sizes at existing levels. Estimated impact on $150,000 residence would be about $5 per year.

Box Elder School District voted leeway

Box Elder School District is asking voter approval for a 0.004 increase in the voted leeway. The impact per $100,000 valuation is $22 per primary residence and $40 per business.

The school district argues that additional revenue is needed to cover escalating energy, fuel, and health care costs.

To its credit, BESD has consolidated fifteen elementary schools into twelve in recent years due to declining enrollment.

Washington School District voted leeway

The school district is asking voters to approve a 0.000500 increase in the voted leeway. The impact per $100,000 valuation will be $27.50 for primary residences and $50.00 for businesses. The district intends to use the additional revenue for reading intervention, gifted and talented programs, class size reduction, and teacher compensation.

Morgan School District

Morgan School District will be asking voters to approve a $25 million bond. The bond will be used to build a new elementary school, remodel an existing elementary school, and remodeling and updating the high school. The tax impact on a $200,000 dollar home would be $78.25 per year.

American Fork City

Taxpayers in American Fork will be voting on $46,950,000 bond which will cover the costs of building a secondary irrigation system. The bonds will be financed over 28 years and will be paid with impact fees and user fees. Property taxes will be used if revenues from impact fees and user fees are insufficient. Reliance on user fees for water development makes more sense than using general tax dollars because increasing user fees provides a financial incentive for users to conserve water.

Park City

For the third time since 1998, Park City taxpayers will be asked to support a tax increase for open space preservation. The proposed $20 million bond follows two bonds of $10 million each that were passed in 1998 and 2002. If the bond is passed, property tax rates will increase 0.000260, or $75.96 for a primary residence and $130.05 for a business or secondary residence.