The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, which was the first Chamber in the United States to receive the Americans for Tax Reform’s (ATR) “Enemy of the Taxpayer Award,” continues to be the driving force behind a concerted effort to raise the taxes of millions of Utahns in order to fund transportation projects.
In order to accomplish its goal, the Chamber uses a series of interlocking front groups to give the impression that there is massive public support for transportation related tax increases and for taxpayer funded transportation projects. However, a closer look reveals that the support comes from Utah’s major businesses (banks, constructions companies, developers, etc.), governmental entities and labor unions that will directly benefit from higher transportation taxes.
In addition, the Chamber and its business allies support taxes where the incidence falls primarily on individuals rather than on businesses. The Chamber is not proposing an increase in the corporate tax rate nor is it offering to repeal the sales tax exemptions that business leaders have obtained during the past decade in order to generate more funds for transportation projects.
The Chamber relies heavily on the Utah Transportation Coalition to move its agenda along. According to its Chamber hosted website, the Coalition’s chair is David R. Golden of Wells Fargo bank. Its partners are the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the taxpayer funded Utah League of Cities and Towns, Utah Association of Counties, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Utah Transit Authority. Its Contributors are taxpayer supported cities and towns from around the state. Its Members are largely businesses that will benefit financially from road construction and transit projects.
Those belonging to the coalition pay according to the level of membership they sign up for–$20,000 for a Leadership Membership; $10,000 for a Strategic Membership; $5,000 for a Supporting Membership; $1,000 for a Coalition Membership; and an undisclosed fee for Alliance Membership which is reserved for associations.
In order to sell tax increases to the public, the Chamber, its front groups, businesses and tax consuming entities paint a rosy picture of the benefits that Utah taxpayers will supposedly realize from higher taxes. According to the Coalition’s website, the average Utah household could save $250 per year by not sitting in traffic. Air quality will be improved in spite of more roads and traffic. There will be $84.8 billion savings due to reduced healthcare costs and fewer vehicle accidents. 183,000 new jobs will be created. Utah households will realize $130.5 billion in additional income and there will be $22.2 billion in new tax revenues.
If that were not enough, the proponents of the tax increases also assert that the environment and quality of life will be improved even though there will be a 60% increase in Utah’s population during the next 30 years and a doubling of the population within 35 years coupled with more urban sprawl, increased traffic and greater pressure on Utah’s limited water resources and recreation areas.
In order to ramp up pressure on the legislature to increase taxes for more road construction/maintenance and for the Utah Transit Authority, the Utah Transportation Coalition organized a rally at the Utah state capitol building on February 25, 2015.
Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber President addressed the gathering as did the head of the Chamber supported Prosperity 2020 group. Beattie focused his remarks on the need to find a long-term funding solution for transportation in order to help Utahns enjoy better air quality, to obtain well-paying jobs and to offset the loss of purchasing power of the current motor fuels tax. Alan E. Hall, chairman of Prosperity 2020 linked transportation funding to improved education. Other speakers included those who would receive the increased tax revenues–state, county and city officials and the head of the Utah Transit Authority.
Those attending the rally consisted almost exclusively of individuals who would benefit from greater government expenditures on roads—construction companies, labor unions, heavy equipment suppliers, Utah Transit Authority personnel, etc. They carried signs provided by the Transportation Coalition and said that they were there because higher taxes would create jobs for them.
Speakers bemoaned the fact that tax revenues had not kept up with inflation and emphasized the importance of making the tax consuming entities whole. However, no one talked about making citizens whole following years of stagnant wages, falling home prices and high unemployment. Rather the speakers demanded that these struggling citizens contribute still more of their income to taxes for projects that provide substantial benefits to businesses.
The Transportation Coalition also fully embraced a tax increase for the high salaried, world traveling, poor service Utah Transit Authority (UTA). Recognizing that voters will not support a stand-alone tax increase for UTA, business and political leaders would give the UTA 40% of a proposed local option, .25% sales tax increase with the remaining 60% going to cities and counties. And in order to ensure that UTA gets it increase, they will structure the proposal so voters wishing to increase taxes for city and county roads will have to support an increase for UTA as well.
The last nine days of the legislative session will see the Chamber and its front groups exerting extreme press on legislators to increase the state’s motor fuels tax and to support a local option sales tax increase for transportation. If the legislature gives the Chamber what it is asking for, the Chamber and its front groups will then use their extensive resources to get voters to pass a local option sales tax to provide UTA, cities and counties still more taxpayer funds.