Cities, towns lobby for stable revenues
As the 2003 Legislative Session comes to a close and lawmakers' focus shifts in earnest to the budget, Utah finds itself among numerous states struggling to get through the current economic downturn without raising taxes or cutting services deeply. Based on the examples of other western states, this will not be an easy task to accomplish.
We have all read about the multi-billion dollar dilemma facing California and Oregon recently announced that it would lay-off more than 150 highway patrol troopers to get the state's budget in line. Other states are releasing prisoners, cutting health insurance for poor children, delaying vital infrastructure improvements and so on.
It seems every budget must be balanced on the back of something important.
The good news is - Utah's budget problems are not as dire as the situations faced by other states. The bad news is - state lawmakers, in true forest for the trees fashion, are taking a bad situation and making it worse by putting themselves in opposition with what should be their greatest advocates, the cities and towns where more than 95 percent of all Utahns live.
Instead of viewing Utah's 237 cities as partners in helping the Utah legislature move good government to the people, lawmakers seem to regard municipalities like Price as one more special interest block competing with hundreds of others for money.
There's serious talk in the Utah legislature about siphoning off cities' portion of state taxes assessed on gasoline, liquor and telecom.
The taxes represent a source of revenue that factors significantly into local budgets, especially following the deep reductions in property taxes seen in through the 1990s and the marked drop in sales taxes - upon which Price is 70 percent dependant - that naturally result from a down economy.
How much will Price lose? We won't know until the 2003 budget is passed and signed. And the uncertainty threatens the quality of local government services and the economic development cities need tomorrow.
Mayor Joe Piccolo factors heavily into the argument. As the president of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, it's his job to bring the legislators to the table and convince state lawmakers to work with us, not against us.
In his lobbying, Piccolo makes it clear that cities like Price are willing and able to tighten their belts along with everyone else, but it's very important that he and his fellow mayors know by how much.
In other words, Piccolo is not asking for more money, but increased cooperation and stable revenues.
What's in it for the Utah legislature? Piccolo points out that strong partnerships with the state's municipalities will enhance the Utah legislature's ability to move good government to the people, especially residents living in areas with special needs, such as Carbon County.
And while a partnership would seem to make perfect sense, Piccolo indicates many lawmakers are reluctant to accept the concept.
In a phone interview Monday, Piccolo said legislators apparently don't appreciate the strong, supporting role municipal governments can play.
We are fortunate in this area to have close contact with our representatives who work hard against the majority to create bi-partison politics.
Piccolo indicated he needs the community's support in helping lawmakers understand the need to change the approach to dealing with city governments, starting in Carbon and surrounding counties.
I encourage readers to weigh the issue and make opinions known to the Legislature. State senators and representatives may be contacted via the Internet at leg.utah.gov or called at 801-538-1035.