A vote by the Salt Lake City Council on the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase was put off as a result of concerns voiced by some business and community leaders over the lack of detail in the spending plan.
Plans for a hefty new stream of revenue from a proposed sales tax increase in Salt Lake City deserve the kind of specificity and clarity that city leaders have now pledged to deliver after postponing a vote on the issue. It’s critical the city come up with a thoroughly detailed plan on how it will use the money to address essential needs in the areas of infrastructure, housing, public safety and mass transit.
It’s also important the ongoing revenue additions are protected against future redeployment for pet projects or other needs that rise up in coming years. The places where the funds will prospectively be spent are indeed matters of intense priority. City leaders contend nearly two-thirds of the city’s roads are in poor condition. A shortage of affordable housing is already reaching crisis proportions and, as the city’s full-time and commuter populations continue to grow, there will be pressure on transportation and public safety systems.
In short, the city is on the cusp of dramatic change brought by steady and vigorous growth. How the new money will be spent goes directly to the question of whether the capital city’s future living and working environments are healthy, attractive and sustainable. It’s critical at this point in the city’s history that its leaders have a detailed and transparent plan to manage the impacts of that growth, and that they stick to it.
A vote by the City Council on the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase was put off as a result of concerns voiced by some business and community leaders over the lack of detail in the spending plan. The increase itself enjoys broad public support, which is understandable given the fact that those who live in the city or commute there for work are intimately aware of the condition of roadways. They are aware, too, of escalating housing costs that are forcing lower-income residents to leave the city and are also contributing to the homeless problem.
But just how the money raised by new taxes will directly address those separate issues is a vital question. The city’s housing master plan, approved late last year, identifies certain goals but is somewhat vague on the manner and levels of city investment in various housing initiatives, especially in the long term. As for street conditions, no city can strive for world-class status with poorly marked roadways pocked with chuckholes. A study of road conditions estimates it would cost $20 million a year to maintain the roads, three times more than the city currently spends. The city should see to it that revenues from the sales tax hike make up for that deficit. The city has also asked voters to approve an $87 million bond issue in November to get a jumpstart on major roadway improvements.
It’s good that city leaders and residents are on the same page when it comes to general priorities for urban improvement. If residents are willing to pay higher taxes to address those priorities, they deserve to know from their leaders exactly where, when and how those dollars will be spent.