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.

 

Another Warning On Government Private Sector Intrusion (Davis Conference Center)

In 2009, I wrote up a brief post on the Davis County Commission having a fit about a pole dancing event at their tax-funded conference center. Back then I stated that, as far as I was concerned, it was tough luck because government involvement had turned the facility into a public venue without the right of service refusal found in private property*.

Looks like Dallas is dealing with something worse than a pole dancing event and as the blog author notes, they too can stuff it thanks to government involvement in the facility (Why Dallas is wrong to ban porn convention from city-owned property):

The problem is the convention IS guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution under the “right of the people to peacefully to assemble” in the First Amendment and Section 1 of the 14th Amendment under the “ No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. ” It’s not like the porn convention broke the law when it came to Dallas last year (something Dallas’ own police chief told the City Council)…

This also brings up another issue: the fact the convention center is owned by the city. It’s a legal grey area because there are fees groups have to pay before they’re allowed to host an event. If the convention center was private, there wouldn’t be a debate over the issue (and the convention organizers are suing) because it would be a contract between two private entities. The private owners of the convention center could say to the organizers, “No thanks, we don’t want your money, enjoy your refund,” and it’s doubtful a judge would rule against them because of due process in the 14th Amendment.

I recommend reading the post. The situation serves as yet another example of why government should stay out of things best left to the private sector

*Caveat: the right of service refusal on private property has been diminished in favor of certain politically-correct groups (especially if it involves wedding cakes). After all, some people are simply “more equal” than others…

Early Warning: City Tax Increases For UTA And Kickbacks (Update)

The Bountiful City Council is poised to pursue recommending tax increase on the November ballot.  Likely they used this vapid, boilerplate resolution provided to them from the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT – a tax-funded municipal lobbying group that lobbies the legislature to increase you taxes – go figure).

Basically, if they are able to pass the tax increase, UTA  (Utah Transit Authority) will get 40% of it for improving their service (…and free up funding for more outrageous executive bonuses). Meanwhile cities get 40% of the take and counties get 20%. Effectively, the legislature set this scheme up so everyone get’s a juicy kickback by getting this thing passed. As one person I know put it: Imagine if the city were to agree with Comcast to slap a fee on every homeowner for Comcast internet improvements under the agreement that Comcast will give the city/county 20-40% of the fee?

Of course, if Comcast and the city rigged a deal like this, there would be an investigation and things would not be pretty.  However, since government and a government-spronsored private organization (UTA) is involved, this is somehow kosher.

This tax will be on top of several new, and proposed 2015 taxes/fees (note there may be more, these are just off the top of my head):

  • Statewide property tax increase of $46/average home ($250K, I think) (SB97)
  • State gas tax increase (now 12% which also automatically increases the revenue as wholesale price increases up to a threshold of $0.40/gallon (HB362)
  • Directed by the Utah Legislature (SJR6) Chaffetz has proposed a law that would require all online businesses to collect Utah sales tax from Utah citizens

Fortunately for cities, ULCT (along with Utah Chamber of Crony Capitalists-afilliated groups and front organizations) is going to help cities with the get-out-the-vote campaign (see the “When” section). Based on the aforementioned resolution and linked document, cities are likely to make hay of their road maintenance shortfall to convince you to spit up 40% overhead to UTA. Quite frankly, the shortfall is of their own doing – if they would’ve focused on core government functions instead of pet projects like recreation centers, theater for plays, art displays/festivals, special-interest museums, etc (see the tags linked above). Maybe it’s time they check their priorities and adjust such first before further burdening families.

Unfortunately, for those who expect some fiscal responsibility and oppose these intra-governmental kickback schemes, things will be tough. The above crony groups will use their coffers to swamp the media with ads etc as they will see a return on investment (at your expense) and attack opponents as ‘miserly’ for such a small increase (again, ignore the other increases this is heaped on).  Plus, they also have the advantage of  the “Concentrated versus Diffuse Interests” effect so eloquently identified by Milton & Rose Friedman many years ago.

Good times ahead, or something.

UPDATE (8/18): The Davis County Commission voted to stick the measure on the ballot:

The motion was unanimous with votes from Commissioners.
Milburn – on the UTA Board of Trustees.
Smith – CEO of  Davis Chamber of Commerce – Chambers are involved in PR for the tax increase (see my above link), I’m betting Davis Chamber will chip in too…
Petroff who stated: “putting the sales tax increase on the ballot is not a hard decision for me.”

UTA’s ‘not so dazzling’ State audit reports can also be found (via Evelyn Everton’s twitter) at the links:
2014
2012

UPDATE (10/17): The ballot proposal is known as Proposition 1 (“Prop 1”).  Please vote NO on this most recent piece of crony capitalism (see also today’s post: Prop 1: Funding The UTA Money Pit With Government Kickbacks).

UPDATE (2016): For historical reference, Bountiful’s City Council passed the “vapid resolution” unanimously on June 23, 2015.