Food: A New Sin Tax For Utah?

That’s right. I’m going to say it again: Food is perfectly eligible as a sin tax.

…and by sin, I’m referring to the politician’s and crony organizations’ sin.

Utah legislators are contemplating raising taxes on food because they’re worried about a budget shortfall. It’s funny how that may be the case after we’ve spent, bonded and redirected who knows how many millions or billions on crap outside the proper role of government. I guess all those cute ‘it only costs a tenth/half percent of the budget or it’s just a few dollars a day’ projects add up and you start to fall short for important stuff…like more useless projects government shouldn’t be involved with.

Rather than just slapping everyone with another tax hike, maybe they should look at cutting some of the crony capital junk (UTA, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce front group boondoggles come to mind, among others). How about also ditching wasteful incremental budgeting with all it’s skunks, while your at it?

On the local level, we keep hearing that RDAs for a new, unnecessary city hall building won’t raise taxes. As I said in the past, it’s robing Peter to pay Paul and the piper will come calling when taxing entities find they’ve fallen short of money because the RDA etc. ate some of it up. The above is another example of the fallacy of the city council’s argument.

Finally, politicians don’t own all the guilt. The public (you and I) will band together to form groups demanding stuff like recreation centers, theaters, RAP taxes which impose on budgets and, ultimately, on families. Hopefully, we’ll consider the propriety and whether it’s a core governmental function or not next time we want something, else we’re our own worst enemy.

Predictable Goat Rope: Bountiful City Nixes Citizen Vote On New City Hall

A few weeks ago I warned:

Cities and politicians don’t like to lose on these things…politicians will use whatever they can to invalidate a petition or, failing that, pull an end run around a vote outcome…

My post linked to a Clipper article about the city ‘interpreting’ their vote on the city hall. You can guess how they interpreted the vote. Here’s the summary of where things stand from the petition gatherers:

CITY REJECTS CITIZENS’ REFERENDUM
Says New City Hall is Not Up to the Voters

The City of Bountiful on Friday Jan 27th, officially rejected the referendum petition signed by over 4000 Bountiful residents.   “Administrative acts are not referable” to the voters, wrote City Recorder Shawna Andrus about the City’s decision.  In other words, the City claims that the October decision to build a new city hall and plaza—officially the “Bountiful Downtown Plan”—was a mere administrative decision not subject to voter approval.

Council member John Pitt explained his support for rejecting the referendum.  “I see the city hall decision as clearly an administrative decision since it involved no laws, no ordinances, no tax increase, and no zoning changes,” he said.

During December, 4126 citizens signed a petition asking City leaders to put the matter on the ballot next November.  The petition was submitted to the Davis County Recorder who then forwarded it to the City.  Although the City claims the petition was “insufficient,” the message from voters was crystal clear, say the co-sponsors: “Let the taxpayers decide how their money is spent.”

Bryan Anderson, one of the co-sponsors, said that before he started gathering signatures, he did not know how intensely Bountiful residents felt about the City’s plan.  “I now know for sure that the majority of Bountiful residents are against the idea.  Of the hundreds of signatures I gathered, I only met one person who was actually in favor of the idea,” said Anderson. “People didn’t just sign their name in favor of referring the matter to voters, rather, they spoke of their frustration with our city leaders’ decision.”

In October, the City Council voted to demolish the University of Utah Extension building (formerly Stoker School), sell off the current city campus for mixed use development and a bus station, and build a new city hall and plaza on the Stoker site.  Estimates of the cost of the plan vary from $15 million to $22 million dollars.

Council member Richard Higginson admitted at the October City Council meeting that the current city hall “could probably stand for another 60, or 80, or 100 years.”  But, he said, “That’s not the issue.”  “City Hall is just in the way right here for the transit-oriented development” the City Council wants to build on the current city campus.

“What ‘transit-oriented development’?” asks co-sponsor Dean Collinwood.  “Have the citizens ever been given a chance to vote on such a scheme?  Have they ever agreed to have rapid transit busses running in front of the single-family residences near City Hall?   This is a scheme that exists only in the minds of the City Council.  It doesn’t exist in the hearts of the citizens, because they have never been given a chance to vote on it.”

Under Utah law, voters can make some policies directly, without having to go through elected representatives, explained Dean Collinwood. To do so, the issue must involve a “local law,” defined by the Utah Code as any “ordinance,” “resolution,” or “master plan.”

“Clearly, the Bountiful Downtown Plan, a massive project to alter the location of Bountiful’s seat of government, sell off or demolish several pieces of valuable city property, develop Five-Points, and turn the city campus into a rapid transit bus station, fits the legal definition of a master plan perfectly,” he said.

In City documents, the master plan is known as the “Bountiful Downtown Plan.”  City leaders often refer to it as “the plan,” “the project,” or “the comprehensive solution.”  Council member John Pitt calls it “the $22 million redevelopment plan.”  City Manager Gary Hill explained that the idea was to “take advantage of the property around Stoker that the City owns to develop into a plaza, and then to develop…the area around [the current City Hall] as a transit-oriented mixed use development, and then to take advantage of those ideas and reinvest money at the Five-Points area.”

The problem, says Dean Collinwood, is “the people who would pay for it were not asked to approve it.  That’s about as un-American as you can get.”

Half the states in America and all the states in the western half of the country allow popular referendums so that matters can be put forward for direct vote by the people or to recall elected officials. The referendum petition that citizens recently signed was such an effort.

One city-owned property cited for demolition under the Bountiful Downtown Plan is the Stoker School building which is listed on the National Historic Register and which has been used for some thirty years as the University of Utah’s Bountiful Extension.  The Extension caters to some 1200 students a year.  University officials have indicated that if their building is demolished, the University will leave Bountiful and South Davis County permanently.  A group of citizens has already started the process of asking a judge to stop the demolition.

Another part of the masterplan is to sell off the current city campus and turn the space into a bus station surrounded by mixed-use, high density buildings.  Library officials have indicated that the Library is already short on parking space, and that if the city hall campus is filled up with buildings, they will not have space for Library patrons to park…

What I said two weeks ago bears repeating: “Politicians will protect their pet projects tooth-and-nail.”

City politicians have had a field day over the last decade or so heaping new pet projects, taxes, and costs on citizens. It needs to end. The council and mayor should be voted out next election an allow for a fresh start with a focus on core city services/functionality rather than personal legacy building.

Bountiful City May Circumvent Referendum For New City Hall

A month ago, I noted that Bountiful residents had a “Last Chance To Stop Bountiful City From Blowing $21 Mil Of Your Taxes“. Here’s an update.

First, the good news. It appears that the referendum signature gathering was successful: Ballot petition drive exceeds expectations. The story notes 3,900 signatures were collected in a very short time but I understand the total is closer to 4,100. Those totals, however, are before the signatures are vetted/verified. Nevertheless, referendum proponents expect that they will comfortably meet the threshold for a referendum as they collected a good cushion of extra signatures (about 1,400 beyond the required 2,765).

Now my warning. Cities and politicians don’t like to lose on these things. As I talked to people on this, I remember someone asking me if I thought the referendum had a chance. I told them politicians will use whatever they can to invalidate a petition or, failing that, pull an end run around a vote outcome. Low and behold, about a day or two later I read this in the Clipper (Deadline nearing for city hall referendum petitions):

The committee said that once the signatures are gathered and verified, city administrators can either accept the petitions and put the issue on the November ballot, or reject them, citing the vote to approve by the council was an administrative, rather than a legislative, decision. A final decision on acceptance or rejection could come before the end of January, Collinwood said. [Emphasis added]

Therein is your caveat emptor: Politicians will protect their pet projects tooth-and-nail. Don’t get complacent and think this is on the way to being won. It is not.

For ongoing updates on the referendum and the city hall issue see: NoNewCityHall.com and the Better Bountiful group.

 

Last Chance To Stop Bountiful City From Blowing $21 Mil Of Your Taxes

About a month ago, the city council voted unanimously* to ignore citizen pleas and dump $21 million to please yet another round of special interests. They continue to justify it as something that won’t raise taxes, when it reality it will, just not immediately (they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul – see also: Fund Utah schools by ending corporate incentives).

You now have one last chance to stop this money grab and you can do it while Christmas shopping. A citizens referendum is prepared and needs your signature before January 6th (it takes a minute don’t put it off!). Just swing by K & J Auto or contact the Better Bountiful group. Details (edited for brevity):

The long-awaited Referendum is finally, ready to sign!

THANK YOU!  We have come a long way together, and owe it to your great support.  With people focused on the holiday season we need your help now, more than ever!  Please see below for details on how to help and ensure we get the signatures we need!

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

  •  Visit one of the locations at the given times below and sign the referendum.
  • Or, even better, we need volunteers to collect signatures on the approved forms (See where to obtain them below).

WHERE DO I GO TO PARTICIPATE?

  • K & J Auto (10 am – 6 pm Monday – Friday, 10 am – 3 pm Saturday)

o   310 South Main Street

One quick easy trip. That’s it….and since your downtown anyway, why not check out some of the local merchants offerings for Christmas (hint, hint).

For ongoing updates on the referendum and the city hall issue see: NoNewCityHall.com and the Better Bountiful group.

*One member on the council (Harris) was partially fooled into voting for the entire amount when the council presented the spending as an all-or-nothing package (not allow for components to be split up). Just a typical political move from entrenched politicians to get junk funded (wish more people like Ted Cruz would call them out on this type of crap and simply say ‘fine, I’ll vote no to the whole thing then’).

Bountiful City Council Sophistry For Their New City Hall

A bit over a month ago, I warned that Bountiful City Council had begun another foray at getting their new city hall. A few days ago I got their glossy propaganda pamphlet telling my why I should be happy to see $21 Million more in taxes be spent so “visionary” politicians can put their names on new projects paid for by taxpayers. The pamphlet’s rationale is simply absurd:

The author attempts to justify a new city hall as an economic driver for Main Street. I’m sorry, a new city hall is not a tourist attraction. The same clients coming for permits are not going to all-of-a-sudden start burning cash on Main St. because city hall has a new car smell. Private business is an economic driver, not pretty new government buildings with no additional services.

Further, Main street is not an easily accessible area and unless they want to gut blocks of city to totally restructure the roads from I-15, it will remain the same. This ‘revitalizing Main St’ shtick as a justification for pet projects that have been going on for well over a decade. Enough already.

Other justifications for the spending include a plaza for chalk art, a car show, and undefined community events. All seem like they would qualify for the RAP Tax we already pay (they’re double dipping). All already have perfectly adequate venues and interest groups are welcome to fund improvements (if they actually even want any in the first place) rather than tapping school and county tax funds.

The taxes not increasing thing is bogus. RDAs are a synonym for “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in my book or as a state Legislative Audit report states:  “When RDAs take property taxes as allowed in tax increment financing (TIF), other taxing entities suffer. .” Yes, tax rates will not increase…yet. What happens is that the schools and Davis county just gave up $21 Million in revenue. In a few years they’ll need a building or have some other spending shortfall. Then we get tagged with urgent demands for a tax increase or extension of a prior tax increase (bonds) ‘to fund these critical needs for the children’ or for public safety – the same project(s) that would have otherwise been funded by the forgone RDA money. So, yeah, there is an indirect impact on our tax rates, be it an increase or, in the case of bond extensions, rates that were not reduced (and money not returned).

Finally, the pamphlet claims a net $17 Million benefit (with a 261% ROI). If that is true, the RDA is unnecessary and a developer should jump at that kind of a return. So, I guess we don’t need the RDA after all, hooray!

Addendum: The Better Bountiful group appears to be the main opposition. It has recently set up a website (NoNewCityHall.com) specifically dealing with this issue. One of their first and greatest challenges will be to overcome the involvement inertia so well describe by Rose and Milton Friedman.

 

South Davis County And UTA: Preparing For Streetcar Tax Increases

Overpriced Art Center Pet Project: Check.  Next local politicians’ pet project with your money: the erstwhile nixed streetcar project.  In 2010, I warned that the issue could raise it’s head again, especially as we view how politicians and special interests pushed the RAP tax over and over again ultimately employing a divide and conquer strategy to get it passed.  Looks like they going to keep pushing on this one too.  From the Salt Lake Tribune article:

Those communities and the Utah Transit Authority are taking a step toward making that a reality — but probably far in the future, and after conversion from an initial, cheaper-to-build “bus rapid transit” (BRT) line, sort of a TRAX on rubber wheels.

Officials are working out details to join in a $450,000 study on whether to build such a line, where the alignment should be, whether it should be a streetcar, TRAX or BRT — and what kind of economic impacts it could have. That “alternatives analysis,” assisted by a $360,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration, is expected to be completed next year.

Now they can dump $450K of pork (your money) into a study plus the future potential cost of their project.  However, this politicians trough comes with a cherry on top…a tax increase:

What could delay a streetcar or TRAX — and force longer use of the cheaper BRT — is that Davis County has a lower sales tax rate for transit than does Salt Lake County, so less money is available for such projects…

…”In order for Davis County to be a player,” Millburn said, increasing the transit sales tax likely will likely have to be addressed “some time.”

I suppose Commissioners Millburn and Downs forgot they were elected due to a tax revolt or figure increasing by drips and drabs will go unnoticed.  The end result is the same: more tax burdens on families.

2011 Bountiful City Council Candidates (With Incumbent Data)

This is going to be a short post.  Basically, there is only one candidate (Ernie Cox) that is even willing to look at cuts related to the city budget.  All other candidates are incumbents or former incumbents who have supported various taxes and government intrusions into the private sector (be it recreation centers, RAP taxes, forced recycling, transfers from the city power company to cloak tax rates, and streetcars etc).  Based on the above link from the Standard Examiner, Cox seems to be the only fiscal conservative of the bunch who may, at least, provide for some debate or opposition at council meetings.  This may be important as the Mayor and council continue to pursue stuff like streetcars.

Based on data passed on by a reader, an opposing voice is sorely needed:

Voting Record of the Sitting Bountiful City Council

Year

Total Motions

Motions Passed

Total Unanimous

Total Aye Votes

Total Nay Votes

% Yay Votes

2011

176

176

176

814

0

100.0%

2010

202

202

200

926

2

99.8%

2009

172

172

172

793

0

100.0%

2008

210

209

204

986

9

99.1%

4-Year Total

760

759

752

3519

11

99.69%

-The last time voting was not unanimous was 7/27/2010 (Moss voted Nay on Bountiful Lumber Development motion)

-Voting was completely unanimous in both 2011 (to date) and 2009.

-The last time a motion did not carry (pass) was 12/9/2008–nearly 4 years ago (Knight, Holbrook, Tolman voted nay on

Extension of Sunset Provision)

*source: Minutes from Bountiful City Council Meetings

Over a four year period (2008-2011), the current city council votes the same (yea) 99.69% of the time.  I would expect city councils to have relatively high agreement percentages given the higher proportion of ‘gimme’ issues they encounter but only disagreeing 0.31% of the time seems pretty excessive.

Finally, here are the absences are as follows (includes late arrival or early departure which results in missed votes):

Moss 8
Myers 7
Knight 5
Tolman 4
Holbrook 3

Food for thought when voting this year.