Quasi-Government Entities Need Increased Oversight

May 30, 2017  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Interlocal agencies, independent entities, special service districts, Associations of Governments (AOG), and conservancy districts—each of these is a type of government-sponsored or -created organization given control of some aspect of administration, localized policy making, or government service. In short, they have control over a portion of your tax dollars and/or your life.

Who are these mysterious organizations that, up until recently, have hidden their operations in the shadows? To be clear, they hold some public meetings, report to the Utah Legislature periodically, and probably even have up-to-date websites. However, they probably would rather you not know about the size of their budgets, nor their too frequent misappropriation of funds.

The average Utahn might recognize these government organizations from the media attention they have received over the past few years:

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HB67: Weapons on Public Transportation

December 21, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  No comments

This bill passed the House 59-12 and passed the Senate 24-2.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Under current law, a person who boards a bus with a firearm—except for law enforcement officials and concealed weapon permit holders—is guilty of a third degree felony.

House Bill 67, sponsored by Representative Norm Thurston, would eliminate this penalty enhancement, thereby reducing the action to a misdemeanor; a person illegally concealing a weapon should not be treated differently criminally merely for stepping onto a bus.

The same proposal passed the House unanimously last year, but did not receive a vote in the Senate before the legislature adjourned.

Why the UTA Bonuses are So Objectionable

April 21, 2014  |  Posted in: Center for Free Enterprise  |  No comments

In addition to seeking an increase in the sales tax to help improve its services, the Utah Transit Authority has doubled the amount of bonuses awarded to its managers since last year.

A total of $1.74 million in bonuses was awarded to 389 employees, for an average of $4,473. Of course, most bonuses fell below that average, because many others were substantially higher: $30,000 to the General Manager, General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Communications Officer, Chief Capital Development Officer, Chief Safety Officer, and the Chief Planning Officer. Three other managers received bonuses higher than $20,000, and another 21 were awarded bonuses higher than $10,000. All of this is on top of high base salaries.

The Salt Lake Tribune‘s editorial on this issue focused primarily on the public relations problem that such bonuses has generated. But the problem here is fundamental, not superficial. Throwing so much cash at the upper echelons of a bureaucracy is objectionable not only because it’s allegedly excessive or generates bad press—it’s bad because it’s our money.

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SLC Mayor Proposes Taxpayer-Financed UTA Passes

October 7, 2013  |  Posted in: Center for Free Enterprise  |  3 comments

In an effort “to incentivize transit use and make riding transit more convenient,” Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has announced what’s being called “a fresh solution to help improve air quality”: taxpayer-subsidized transit passes.

Should the plan be approved by the city council, SLC residents would be able to purchase for only $30 per month what others must pay $198 per month. Taxpayers would finance the remainder of each ticket. Businesses and other organizations participate in these bulk pass programs with the UTA to offer their employees or members reduced rates, but UTA spokesman Remi Barron tells Libertas Institute that this proposal “is a first for a municipality in Utah and possibly the entire country.”

If approved, Salt Lake City and UTA would conduct a pilot program for one year, beginning in early 2014. It is expected that up to 6,000 passes might be sold. Salt Lake City would not directly be subsidizing the remainder of the cost, though $150,000 in administrative costs are being requested, pending city council approval, to operate the program.

According to Barron, UTA believes that “this program will be revenue neutral, meaning UTA anticipates we need 6,000 residents to sign up for this, so it won’t cause the city or UTA to lose any money. Our projections show this should be possible, but it is a pilot program and will be evaluated after one year. If it succeeds, other cities can certainly consider a similar arrangement.”

Despite $1.2 billion in new infrastructure investments recently (the majority of which is financed by taxpayers), UTA ridership either has remained constant or declined. One may assume, then, that UTA is eagerly looking for ways to boost participation in its services. In another recent program, UTA partnered with Zions Bank to offer free week passes to encourage more Utahns to utilize the transit system.

A 2012 performance audit of UTA found, using 2010 data, that paying patrons of UTA covered only 20% of UTA’s operating costs. (When compared to UTA’s total costs, fares only accounted for 13% of revenue.) Thus, while a normal monthly pass is $198, even that is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Reducing that pass to $30 for Salt Lake City residents simply shifts more of the burden onto taxpayers.

Those who ride UTA buses pay 15% of the total cost through their fare, whereas those who ride FrontRunner pay only 5%.

All UTA passes are taxpayer-subsidized, illustrating the lack of market demand for these services. If people had to pay eight times the amount of current fares (taking the 13% to 100%), nobody would use it. Thus, to exist, UTA must coercively take money from Utahns at large to operate.

We oppose forcing those who do not use a service to pay for it. We do recognize the need to reduce pollution, and therefore encourage those interested to voluntarily collaborate and find persuasive ways to entice people to carpool, ride bikes, or telecommute. The element of force must be removed from what is otherwise a noble goal.