Utah Proposition 3 is a Waste of Money

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.


  1. Contrary to what you say here, Utah's legislature does subsidize roads and transit both with general fund money. If you pay sales tax or property tax, you must pay for highways whether you use them or not. Likewise with transit.

    And the methods used to "compute" that TRAX riders get a six-dollar subsidy can be used to show that highway drivers get a twenty-dollar subsidy each ride.

    Let's shut down all forms of transportation in Utah! None of them can pay their own way.

    I think the logic there is flawed.

  2. $20 per ride subsidy on the roadways is very hard to believe, but I'll grant you a concession for discussion's sake (if you can refer me to the study you quote, I could become convinced of your side of the argument!)

    At any rate, it seems that those who pay sales and property taxes are much more (nearly 100%) likely to use Utah roads to purchase the items for which they pay sales and property taxes (exceptions may include homebound elderly who still pay property tax on their homes) while they are not nearly as likely to use "public transportation" for these items.

    My basic premise, though, is still that a "pure" gasoline tax is better than Proposition 3. Restated, I wrote in the original post:

    "if we really need more roads than the current gasoline tax can fund, let's increase the gasoline tax"

  3. I understand your position that transportation modes should pay for themselves, but I don't think it is within the realm of realistic policy to advocate before the legislature.

    As far as transit goes, TRAX has exceeded the projected ridership by wide margins every year. If you don't think those riders reduce traffic congestion, then I would like to know where the two-to-three lanes worth of traffic they represent would be going otherwise.

    And you are also ignoring the benefit to the transit riders themselves who don't need to park or wait in traffic. TRAX riders are overwhelmingly middle class people who could drive their family's second car if they wished to.

    Finally, rail transit is a for of real estate development. Cities will allow high-value dense development around transit stops and the value of those developments needs to be counted against the cost of transit capital spending.

  4. For another opinion on TRAX (airport line specifically) go to


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