Lawmakers override governor's veto of transportation fund bill

May 6 2011 - 1:14pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah legislators voted to override a veto by Gov. Gary Herbert and allow the state to earmark a growing percentage of certain sales tax proceeds for transportation.

The Senate voted 21-3, and the House voted 50-18, on Friday to override the veto for Senate Bill 229, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. The bill does not go into effect until July 1, 2013.

It takes up to 30 percent of the growth of certain sales tax money and puts it into a fund that can go toward transportation needs, such as maintenance of roads, repairing bridges, installing sound walls or build new roads. It can also be used as a secondary rainy day fund, for other entities if lawmakers choose.

Adams said he knew the vote was going to be close, "but not that close."

Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, cast the last vote after a phone call from House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, which ended a 10-minute stalemate.

Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace said Clark had concerns about the bill and was not willing to vote for it until he had reassurances. Dee is the House sponsor of the bill.

The bill needed 50 votes from the House to override the governor's veto.

One of those who voted against the bill was Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry.

He said his constituents told him they do not favor a bill that earmarks funds.

"They want legislators to have the flexibility to put the money where it needs to be put," Lee said.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, also voted against the veto.

"I just didn't think it was good policy," Greenwood said. "Earmarking funds is never good policy."

Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said he spent Thursday speaking with Gov. Gary Herbert and plans to address any concerns the governor has about the bill, even if Dee has to sponsor bills next session.

Dee said Herbert is concerned about the cap and the formula, but "we're willing to work with the governor."

Herbert had released a statement at the time of the veto that said, "I am concerned that SB 229's automatic earmark will translate into decreased ability to fund other budget priorities, such as higher education, human services and economic development in future years."

The bill does several things, Adams said. The first is it provides funds for transportation. It also eliminates or defers the need to increase the tax on gas. It also will act as a rainy day fund.

In the past, legislators have used the transportation fund several times as a rainy day fund, including in 2010, when $113 million was used to build new buildings on higher education campuses, Adams said.

Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, spoke in support of the bill saying it will provide funds for those times when the state has needs that are greater than its revenues.

Adams said sales tax is a tax that changes with the economy. When the economy is good, then the revenues from sales tax is good. When it takes a downturn, then there are fewer funds.

By putting additional funds into an account, lawmakers will be able to have funds for transportation needs or fill in other areas.

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