Mixed Election Results in Utah on Transportation Sales Tax Proposition

Prop. 1, a quarter-cent sales tax that would benefit public transit in Wasatch Range counties, passed in 10 counties but was defeated in seven, including the populous Salt Lake County where supporters have yet to concede due to the narrow loss.
November 8, 2015, 5am PST | Irvin Dawid
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The Utah Transportation Coalition was "pleased with the success of Prop 1 in Carbon, Davis, Duchesne, Grand, Rich, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele and Weber Counties," according to a "thank you" message on their website. [That's 10 counties.] "We’re disappointed that residents in Beaver, Box Elder, Juab, Morgan, Uintah and Utah Counties will not benefit from the transportation improvements provided by Prop 1." [Six counties]

The 17th county, Salt Lake, is home to Salt Lake City and the county seat, and offers the most transit services.

Lee Davidson, transportation reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, writes that the proposition "went down to apparent defeat by a razor-thin 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent margin, according to the final unofficial tally on election night. Supporters were not willing to concede defeat, noting that late-arriving votes by mail still could reverse that result."

"We're down by about 2,600 votes," and thousands of ballots could still be counted, said Abby Albrecht, campaign director for the pro-Prop 1 Utahns for Responsible Transportation Investments. "We still have hope."

"Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, a strong supporter of Prop 1 [and recipient of Utah APA 2002 Citizen Planner Award], said controversy over the Utah Transportation Authority [sic] likely brought down the proposition in Salt Lake County," writes Davidson. Planetizen has two very positive posts on UTA, the transit authority which services seven counties of the Wasatch Front (per Wikipedia); one on bicycling, the other on rail.

Along the Wasatch Front, 40 percent of Prop 1 money, by law, would go to the UTA. Another 40 percent would go to cities and unincorporated area service districts for local roads, trails, bike paths, sidewalks and similar projects. Twenty percent would go to counties for projects of regional significance.

Dolan said most residents supported the part of Prop 1 that would help local roads, "but the campaign against UTA had a strong effect on the turnout" and in votes against the proposition.

Of the five other UTA-serviced counties that voted on Prop. 1, it passed in Davis, Tooele, and Weber, and failed in Box Elder and Utah.

"Interestingly, the Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity came out against Prop 1, a tell-tale sign that on balance, the measure was good for transit," writes Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog USA in a post-election analysis that includes Seattle and Texas.

However, Americans For Prosperity did not put up any funds against the measure in Salt Lake County, while proponents spent $675,000, according to Davidson.

"The UTA Board committed to use its share of Prop 1 money primarily to expand bus service, including more frequency, longer service hours and more weekend service," adds Davidson.

The legislation enabling Prop. 1 was created by the same legislation that will increase the gas by a nickel effective January 1.

Hat tip to Angie Schmitt.

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Published on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 in The Salt Lake Tribune
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