Transportation funding initiatives known as Proposition 3 in Salt Lake County and the Opinion Question in Utah County are fraught with unknowns. They stand to be colossal wastes of money. Mixing automobile transportation funding and public transportation funding in one initiative is a mistake, because each mode of transportation is so different from the other.
It seems like just about everyone in Utah is in favor of the transportation funding initiatives that are on the ballot in Utah. I'm not.
It's interesting to note that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) transit district was formed as a result of the pending energy crisis in the early 1970's. It didn't pay its way then, and it never has since. In 2000, Utahns subsidized every Trax rider to the tune of $6.60 per ride, and every bus rider got a gift of $2.20 every time he rode. According to some, we have a new transportation crisis.
In 2000, UTA requested additional subsidies in the form of a .25% increase in the sales tax. An entity that continues to request additional funding while providing a service that raises revenue is not worthy of any funding. It is easily seen that such a service is something people do not want. Private transportation systems could provide a much more efficient service than UTA currently provides.
Utah's public transportation receives the most subsidization of any state in the country. In 2000, UTA claimed that freeway congestion would be significantly minimized because many more people would ride public transportation if light rail were available. Trax was installed, but UTA's dreams didn't materialize. Their most current claim is that a commuter rail system will draw huge crowds, but based on previous behavior, this won't happen either.
Utahns' traveling behavior is not conducive to public transportation. We love to have our own automobile at our disposal. Private transportation is generally much more convenient than public transportation, and Utahns are all about convenience and efficiency. There is nothing wrong with this. The only way to get us out of our cars would be to create a prohibitive sales tax on gasoline that made it cheaper to ride public transportation. But therein lies the problem--the prohibitive gas tax would become an effective subsidy for public transportation. Government should not subsidize what people do not want.
A gasoline tax is one of the best taxes that can be levied on a society, because revenues generated from the tax go toward the maintenance of the use for which the tax is levied. If you use public roads, you probably buy gasoline. If you buy gasoline, you are (currently, in addition to federal gas taxes) paying a 24.5-cent-per-gallon state tax . You are thereby contributing to the upkeep of the public roads that you use. The amount collected from the Utah gas tax and other fees such as driver licenses has generally been thought as paying for the roads that we need.
But suddenly into the fray jumps Utahns for Proposition 3. In much the same way that UTA was founded 35 years ago, VoteFor3 is holding aloft again the specter of a new transportation crisis. If we add another .25% to our sales tax, so they claim, we can solve that crisis in only 9 years instead of 24. I'm not sure where they got this statistic from, but it is surely faulty if ANY of the money goes toward public transportation, because historically money thrown at public bus and rail transportation has had much less effect on traffic congestion than has money invested in public roads.
Instead of voting for proposition 3, if we really need more roads than the current gasoline tax can fund, let's increase the gasoline tax! Let's even peg it to inflation! But goodness gracious, let's not throw our money down the bus-and-rail rathole. It has never been effective, and it never will be.
If you don't use public roads, then you don't pay taxes for them. Conversely, even if you've never used public transportation and never will, you still pay for it. This is what is wrong with public transportation. This is what is wrong with Proposition 3 in Salt Lake County and The Opinion Question in Utah County.