House Speaker Greg Hughes hinted at “big changes” to transportation this year, and those changes appeared Thursday morning in the form of a 113-page draft bill from the state’s Transportation Governance Task Force.
The task force’s bill recommends a complete restructuring of the Utah Transit Authority’s governance, revamping the state's transportation funding and adding some new taxes and fees to funnel more dollars to public transit.
The biggest change is the scrapping of UTA’s 16-member part-time, volunteer board with a new three-member, full-time paid board of trustees.
Each member would represent counties within UTA’s service area, which includes Salt Lake, Utah Davis, Weber and Box Elder counties. The board would set the agency’s budget and priorities.
Co-chair of the task force, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said the new board will restore public trust. The UTA has been under public scrutiny for years for past financial mismanagement.
“I absolutely love the way this goes as far as nominated by the counties, appointed by the governor and consent by the senate," he said. "I love the accountability that that puts on the board.”
The UTA would retain an executive director and a nine-member local advisory board to make recommendations to the board of trustees.
Tax increases are also in the draft bill — including a room tax and local sales tax options. A sales tax will be imposed on the counties within UTA’s service district, with higher taxes for counties that did not adopt sales tax options.
There would be a new registration fee of $200 imposed on electric vehicles — meant to capture the dollars EVs normally avoid in gas taxes.
Some members of the public and the task force, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, expressed concerns about the fees during an overview of the bill at the Capitol. McAdams said the fees could discourage Utahns from choosing cleaner vehicles.
Additionally, the legislation would open up the state’s existing Transportation Investment Fund (TIF) to more multi-modal projects through the creation of a Public Transit Capital Development Fund. Many of the proposed tax increases and fees, including on EVs, will be directed there to fund statewide projects.
The bill will move forward after the task force voted unanimously to recommend it to a legislative committee.