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.

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The 2012 Bountiful City Power Rate Overcharge

Another year goes by and Bountiful City continues to use it’s power company (Bountiful Light and Power) to intentionally overcharge customers in order to secure over two million dollars for it’s general fund…and conveniently avoid any truth-in-taxation rules.  The taxation rule is avoided by manipulating power rates to increase the transfer to city coffers.  Later, the city will crow about it’s low tax rate despite the cloaked tax in the power rates.  When that is added in, the tax rate is not much to crow about – past calculations adding in the the power transfer effectively doubles the tax rate.

This year the transfer comes to $2.28 million. That’s about an $80,000 increase from last year and may take into account last year’s rate hike they imposed and could also include the mandatory recycling fee increase (depends on how that fee can be used – the recycling firm may have demanded more money).

Previous years’ analyses have consistently shown that Bountiful residents are charged significantly higher electric rates and “customer charges” compared to the private (and heavily regulated) Rocky Mountain Power.  I don’t have time to crunch numbers this year (rates or taxes)…maybe I’ll try next week…or the week after.

Republican Delegates Beware II: Consolidated Post On Davis County Candidates (Liljenquist Senate Seat)

Full Disclosure: Friend(s) may also officially enter the race and my father (Ron) is now on the ballot.  I will also put up my gripes (to include my father) if/when they enter the race.  Also be aware that this blog is maintained separate from my father’s campaign and is not affiliated with his campaign.  His campaign items can be found at the referenced citizensfortasfairness.org site.

UPDATE(1/2/12): Added several updates and made this a sticky post.  Also, I recommend delegates read “Introspection: Legislator Ethics Versus Delegates and Voters – The Double Standard” and consider if they are falling into the trap (particularly with Mr. Shumway).

I decided to write a consolidated post on the various candidates which I will keep a running update on as more, if any, candidates definitively run for Senator Dan Liljenquist’s vacated Utah Senate seat.  Right now there are three who are definitely running.  I, personally, liked Dan Liljenquist.  While not always in agreement with his positions, he was a fairly dependable conservative on the issues I followed.  It would be nice to have someone like him fill the seat and not wind down to a liberal republican.

Before anyone freaks out about being negative on candidates, understand that the candidates will cover all the positive spin stuff on their sites and I don’t need to regurgitate it here.  My decision is also based on a Michelle Malkin’s “nose clips” post on the presidential candidates – I found it to be an excellent means of disclosure and clarity in knowing what you are getting with your vote (the political ‘truth in advertising’ equivalent).  Caveat emptor, in alphabetical order:

Greg Ericksen

I trust him on defending the neighborhood caucus/delegate system (his thoughts and mine are similar).  But…on illegal immigration, I see a red flag (from his site):

I support Utah legislation passed in 2011 as a stopgap measure rather than an ultimate solution…I support work permits that require accountability for undocumented immigrants…

He’s referring to HB116 which is undeniably unconstitutional (the bill even had a constitutional note attached), passed in the same late session as HB477 with negligible debate (I called it Utah’s Obamacare Legislature).  Unsurprisingly, the rammed ‘down your throat’ legislation ended up having a litany of expected and unexpected flaws (including for the illegal immigrant beneficiaries).  Mr. Ericksen is also involved in Orbit Irrigation products which had a lot of workers walk out to the 2006 May illegal immigrant amnesty rally (indicating Orbit hired plenty of illegal workers).  At the time they pledged action would be taken but who knows if any was.  Hopefully, Mr. Ericksen will reconsider the effects and process employed for this legislation – right now he seems prime for pressure from the illegal worker use protection lobby (which includes the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce).

Update (12/28): I’ve been hearing that he does seem fairly conservative but doesn’t yet have a grasp of the issues (he’s still on the learning curve but progressing).  I messed up and failed to ask about impressions on his stance regarding illegal immigration.

Timothy Hawkes

Here’s what I know for now: He’s pledged to support the caucus system and wants greater participation but doesn’t include any specifics on how he would do so (that can be very important).

His site is ethics heavy but doesn’t have many specifics other than promising only to run for two terms.  I hope by ethics he doesn’t mean the Utahns for Ethical Government scheme which is much more about power than ethics.  Note: Mr. Hawkes has elaborated on this in the comments section.

Other than that, his site lacks specifics (see update below) but may be in development.  I’ll add more as time permits.

Update (12/28): I’ve been heard him speak recently and he does seem fairly conservative but also is still gaining a grasp of the issues (also on the learning curve).  It was nice to hear that Mr. Hawkes has joined in running a shoe string campaign and not trying to influence votes by buying delegates lunches and dinners etc.  Note that also brings some challenges (see Ron Mortensen section).

Ken Holman

UPDATE (1/2/12): I have been told that Ken Holman has exited the race and is no longer a candidate.

***Under Construction***

So far, I know he’s a former Centerville Councilman and is heavily involved in real estate and appears to partner with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.  The Realtors are a major lobbying/special interest force as is the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber and Realtors lobbied for HB116 (illegal immigrant amnesty – see Ericksen section) and both have a track history for corporate welfare (like the Utah new home purchase credit).

I have no idea on his personal stance regarding preserving the neighborhood caucus but the SL Chamber had plenty in attendance at the exclusive meeting where Jowers et al launched their effort to kill Utah’s caucus system (see Shumway section) and consolidating influence for political elites and big donors.

Update (12/28): The only feedback I’ve heard was that some delegates felt lukewarm about him as a conservative.  Sorry – it’s not much to go on.  Hopefully more will arise – as a former councilman he must have a record.  I’m not sure if he was on the council when the tax-raising recreation center, RAP tax, theater, and recycling votes took place.

Glen Jenkins

***Under Construction ***

On his site he is reasonably specific on education but appears to be still developing positions on some other issues.  He didn’t list anything on the caucus system, illegal immigration, or ethics.  As I previously stated, he’s a semi-late entry and is either still getting his issues up or on the learning curve.  He does, otherwise, appear reasonably conservative.  One caution, similar to Holman is his service on the Woods Cross City Council – what was his record there regarding the recreation center, RAP tax, theater, and recycling along with any private property restricting ordinances (if any).

Ben Lusty

***Under Construction***

12/28 – I found out he is a ‘late entry’ into the race.  I understand several delegates did like him and believe he’s also conservative but they also noted that he was a bit shaky on issues and is on a learning curve right now.  No surprise, since he just started.

I’ll try to update if/when I have time.

Ron Mortensen

Disclosure: Ron is my father.

Well I guess you can say this is now a festivus post and we’re at the family “airing of grievances”.

First, he is fully committed to defending the neighborhood caucus and has played significant role in identity theft, illegal immigration, and legal immigration legislation*.

In keeping with his belief in governmental fiscal responsibility, citizen representation, and avoiding special interest influence, he runs low budget campaigns eschewing lobbyist/big donor money.  That means he relies on an engaged electorate willing to accept detailed pamphlets etc over expensive colorful, puff piece cards with bullet two ‘policy’ bullet points.  That works for the caucus/convention system but is tougher during primary/general elections when many (disengaged) voters ultimately prefer the expensive puff card (face it, voters say they hate $$ in politics but they like the product).  It also means he is targeted by big donors and lobbying groups who see a potential loss of influence.

Along with the above, in the past he’s pledged not to attend closed legislative caucus sessions sponsored by an interest group (they usually provide lunch) as it provides an exclusive perk to the sponsors unavailable to regular citizens (shuts out Joe Blow).  He’s said he’ll be happy to sit out in the hall eating his peanut butter sandwich and meeting with constituents.  That can also mean that he will miss out on some tactical strategy talk by colleagues (they could fill him in later, but that assumes time is available to do so).

He is quite analytical.  He doesn’t go into paralysis by analysis but just dumping something on him and expecting an immediate answer (unless it’s something he’s already knowledgeable about), you’ll have to wait.  He will take some time to study the issue and it can be longer than impatient folks like me want.  Snap decisions are not something he likes to do.

*Regarding the recent legal immigration legislation (HB469) he, to my knowledge, still supports, I supported it too but have since retracted my support and called for its repeal due to Constitutional issues I did not realize (I doubt many do) exist with the legislation.  Please read the linked post for details on why the 10th Amendment does not apply.  Note: he may be re-evaluating his position on HB469 but I can’t confirm that until he returns, sorry.

He’s also out of the country filling in on a humanitarian mission with limited contact capability on this.  Delegate contact will be negligible until his return.  His timing totally sucks but no one knew when Liljenquist would resign and the schedule thereafter.  Murphy’s Law.

Now, on to the feats of strength…

Randy Shumway

He gets a staunch “no way” from me.  He’s aligned with those who seek to kill the neighborhood caucus system, thereby shifting power to the political elites and big donors.  Delegates and neighborhoods would be effectively locked out of the process.  Shumway not only attended Jower’s Alta Club meeting which initiated the effort to neutralize caucuses, but is also part of the Dan Jones and Cicero Group and serves on the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Governors.  These groups had multiple attendees at Jowers’ meeting. He is also part of the Chamber’s Capitol Club which recently hosted a meeting on neutralizing the neighborhood caucus with Kirk Jowers and LaVarr Webb presenting.

He’s also received what I called a reverse endorsement from Republican turned Democrat, Sheryl Allen.

Update (12/28): Mr. Shumway contacted me and stated that he is supportive of the caucus system and would like to see “greater consistency in the system” but it is not a campaign priority at this time and should be handled within the party (Note: my above concerns about his actions toward the caucus system remain – especially given his financial backers – see 1/2/12 update).  He didn’t remember much from the aforementioned meeting and believed it had more to do with education than the caucus system.  I maintain that the meeting was the launchpad for the Jowers’ push on the caucuses.  He stated that he’s not part of the Capitol Club but part of the SL Chamber’s Board of Governors.  I didn’t follow up but just took another look at the linked Capitol Club roster and he’s on it (is it a typo?).  We very briefly discussed the SL Chamber on illegal immigration/identity theft and he did not take  a position.  The SL Chamber has consistently opposed enforcement measures, identity theft prevention via E-verify and was a driving force behind HB116.

UPDATE (1/2/12): Phill Wright on his blog, related to a meet the candidates event, noted that Mr. Shumway came out against HB116 but ultimately gave him a “D-” grade.  I’m also left scratching my head given those who will soon financially support a potential war chest for him are folks behind the effort to neutralise the caucus system and a major force behind HB116.  I hope delegates do not fall for the smooth talk and focus on the issues and who is supporting him and why [edits made on 1/5/12].

Richard Siddoway

***Under Construction***

I just heard a rumor that he is running and would, likely, be a last-minute entry.  I would guage him as the UEA-backed candidate given his past associations.  As I recall, he was a Utah House Representative and I think would be reminicent of Sheryl Allen (not something I’m keen on).  I don’t have any other specific information on his positions at this time.

Todd Weiler

He has stated that he’s supportive of the caucus system and will fight to preserve it.  I wasn’t able to turn up any links to formal articles or statements on caucuses. He’s been in the party leadership structure since 2003.  Mr. Weiler is not supportive and derisive of the Tea Party movement going as far as implying supporters are not “normal people” (also taking a jab a Mike Lee).  I believe he was a Senator Bennett supporter and received $2000 from Bennett in 2009-2010.

Mr. Weiler, however, has had some ethical bumps in the road as recent as this year.  The most recent (this year at the Davis County Republican Convention) was breaking Convention rules and speaking on a resolution despite not being a delegate.  I knew a complaint was lodged at the time.  Then he brushed it aside when asked. Recently, however, I found out that action appears to have been taken in the matter as both he and then Chair Bouwhuis issued apology letters to the current chair.  While trying to turn up references on the caucus system, I stumbled onto a post on cronysim exhibited by party leadership (2008) in which Weiler was also mentioned.  The issue raised in the post was also corroborated by a Deseret News article.

He was a staunch supporter of HB116 (see Ericksen’s section) at the recent County Convention and spoke (the above mentioned violation) to oppose a resolution calling for the flawed legislation to be repealed and replaced.  Hopefully he will reconsider his support of the bill and the process enacted for passage.

That’s all for now.  As noted, if others officially join the race, I will try to keep up.

Politicians Pet Project Meets Resistance (Centerville, Bountiful)

About a year ago, the Bountiful Mayor began talking up steetcars and wanted to some pork spending for his latest pet project.  Shortly thereafter, it came out that he and a Centerville Cit Council member had gone on a UTA-sponsored, taxpayer funded junket to Europe.  A few months later, streetcars appear on the Bountiful City General Plan revision.

That brings us to today where UTA wants to fulfill another pet project fantasy at taxpayer expense.  Fortunately, the plan has met some resistance (Davis County streetcar proposal draws heat):

During a crowded open house Tuesday night, an overwhelming majority of residents opposed a plan to use a streetcar to connect southeast Davis County with Salt Lake City…

Money also worries about a tax increase to fund the streetcar.

The transit line could cost between $411 million and $472 million, said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.

A TRAX line, which was considered previously, would have cost up to $700 million. Carpenter said the next step would be to find funding for the line, which could be a mix of federal and local dollars. [emphasis added]

Take note of the last line I quoted.  They are going to want federal pork funding and tax money for a wasteful mass transit project.  Perusing the rest of the article, UTA comes up with some “justifications” bordering on the ludicrous of helping the local economy.  The good news is, however, that an opposition group is organizing.

Local politicians and special interests have, thus far, been very effective in forcing taxpayer to cough up money for their unnecessary projects.  Part of that is the demonstrated propensity of local politicians to just shove their projects down citizens’ throats and the other part is provided by Milton Friedman (a highly recommended read).  The opponents better be ready to fight hard.

Heads Up: Revisions To Bountiful City General Plan (Update)

A quick blurb.  Bountiful City is revising its general plan.  For some of the related documents go to the City’s planning page.  The documents can, at this time, be found at the top of the page.  Unfortunately, the “Land Use” revision (which was supposed to be “available Monday, September 14”) is still missing.

Watch for fees and other extensions of government programs.  In the transportation document, there is a push for the Mayor’s favored mass transit projects.  That has serious tax and family budget implications.

Finally, the city had an open house on the plan yesterday.  However, you can still sound your opinion.  Just contact city council members.  The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on October 20th.

UPDATE: Regarding the mass transit projects, I noticed a picture of a streetcar on the transportation document.  It is worth noting that Bountiful Mayor Johnson went on a UTA streetcar junket to Europe.  Looks like it worked like a charm.

Bountiful Mayor Falls For UTA Junket (Update – Centerville)

Recently, I wondered why Bountiful’s Mayor Johnson had taken a sudden interest in streetcars.  I knew part of it was related to a trip he made to Europe.  I thought it was a personally paid for trip…how incredibly naive of me.  He was there as part of a UTA junket (using taxpayer funds):

The Utah Transit Authority spent at least $48,000 last month taking nine managers and board members, a business booster and three mayors on a weeklong tour of six European streetcar systems.

The itinerary: Vienna, Munich, Zurich, Nice and Bordeaux, with incidental stops in Monaco and Paris. The goal: peruse state-of-the-art trains unlike any used in North America and consider them as possible connectors that can share traffic lanes with cars to link with Utah’s expanding light-rail system. The travel tab: An estimated $3,700 a head — all from UTA tax dollars.

It’s a good thing UTA got it’s tax increase last March

Parting point: take a look at the talking points by the UTA’s John Inglish, in the above article, and compare to the Mayor’s statements in the Clipper article.

UPDATE:  I missed this:  Below the SL Trib article is a listing of those who went on the junket.  Centerville City Councilman Justin Allen (who is also a UTA board member, I believe) and Lane Beattie with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce  are a couple of other “Davisites” who went on the trip.

Note: the link to the SL Trib story is old and gone.  The full article (“Critics question UTA’s Europe trip”) is available here.

Big Retraction: Davis and Weber Commission (UTA Tax)

It is late and I really don’t feel like typing up a post, but this is important as I dislike inaccurate information which can mislead.

I was wrong and partially wrong (government is still raising the price of goods). The Davis and Weber County Commissioners were NOT complicit with the legislature (specifically, Speaker Curt Bramble) in the UTA tax grab.

I had a chance to talk to someone with the Standard Examiner who was present when the legislature voted in the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) tax. While the Standard’s article (which I based my comments and suspicions on) indicated complicity by the commissioners, it should not have and should have made the article clearer on the subject. To their credit, the Standard source I talked to was totally upfront and honest about this. They said, ‘we make mistakes sometimes and do make it a priority to present clear information’. Fair enough. So It is my turn to say the same.

Now for the full story to clear everything up:

Speaker Curtis Bramble got the UTA tax increase passed at the 11th hour of the legislative session. It completely caught the Commissioners off guard. They had zero foreknowledge of the plan.

Why would Bramble care? Here’s why:
The tax money is NOT kept in the county where it is collected. UTA distributes it as they desire – especially into areas they’re developing, expanding, etc. Areas like Utah County. Guess who Bramble represents…

By placing this tax on us, UTA gets their way and Bramble lets us pay for Utah County’s benefit (rather than they pay for it themselves). UTA also gets it’s way in the process. I would guess UTA came up with this and had Bramble carry it out, but I don’t know that for certain.

Frankly, Bramble has made a superb Machiavellian* political move for his ‘principality’ (negligible political cost and reap benefits for him). I don’t like it at all, and this think it was lousy – in many respects, it is as state version of earmarked pork, but it was a shrewd move.

As such, my appologies to the Commissions. While I’m still uncertain, it appears that they were holding the line against UTA’s tax lust and inaccountiblility. The editorial cartoon I posted should have omitted the Commissions.

Going forward, it would be best to focus scrutiny on UTA. I would encourage Weber and Davis Commissioner’s to team up and protest the move. I would also encourage them to expect strict accountability from UTA (especially after the “executive bonus” flap) and, since we’ve had the tax shoved down our throat, press UTA that the money be accounted for and spent in our respective counties.

*Note: Machiavelli gets a bad rap. He just wrote about what has worked historically. When I use “Machiavelli” it isn’t derogatory, usually it indicates political astuteness. However, such tactics can be misused with serious consequences.