SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers won't be implementing a new sales tax on water this session, despite a local lawmaker's effort to find what he called "creative" ways to fund major water projects.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, would have imposed a 4.5 percent sales tax on water use. The legislation, SB 154, died for lack of a motion in the Senate Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee on Monday. Instead of a motion to vote on the bill, Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, broke the silence and made a motion to adjourn, which immediately suspends any action on a pending bill.
The bill was linked as one potential mechanism to help beef up the state's revolving loan funds to fund major projects in the future. It would have provided up to $24 million in funding for the state water fund. The Bear River Dam and the Lake Powell Pipeline were among projects outlined in a general list of $16 billion worth of water projects in front of the state, though Jenkins insists the tax was not specific to any project.
"This was my best shot," Jenkins said of the measure.
He came into the hearing prepared to take what he called a "good whuppin'" because of the difficulty of trying to address the water funding issue. He said water should pay its own way and not be subsidized.
Jenkins said he worries about an erosion of the tax base, especially the general fund, because of lawmaker efforts to continue to earmark money. He admits he has been part of the problem over the last decade.
The bill generated a lot of debate from lawmakers and the public.
Christi Wedig, of Washington County, said new taxes are the wrong direction to go in addressing water concerns.
"Taxes should be the last resort and only be implemented after users are paying the full cost of water," she said.
Former Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam said water conservation needs to be a bigger priority. Now a resident of Washington County, Van Dam said the St. George area has the highest water use per household, with the lowest fees.
"It seems like water should pay for itself," Van Dam said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, thinks water users should pay the costs of water services. He said the idea of water being subsidized by property taxes should be offensive to property tax payers. He said people should feel the pinch of real water costs every time they turn on the tap.
Jenkins admits the current system does not have an equitable amount of people paying for water. Some communities subsidize water costs from the general fund, and many conservancy districts address water projects and billing differently. When pressed if there should be a uniform system, the Republican from Plain City suggested the current system, with all its flaws, is better than what the state might be able to do.
"In order to do that, the state has to take control of water. We've never done that. We allow all of these districts to do that. What makes the state a guru? What makes us God?" Jenkins asked.
He said it would be wrong to tell the people of St. George they have to use the same system used in Logan.