Poll: Utahns Favor Sales Tax Hike to Pay for Transportation

Most Utahns say they would vote for a higher local sales tax to help with their road funding, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

The 2015 Legislature, after many compromises between House and Senate Republicans, passed HB362, a multifaceted bill that raises the state gasoline tax.

Part of HB362 also gives local governments – cities and counties – the authority to hold an election to see if their voters will approve a quarter-cent sales tax hike for their local roads and transit districts.

UtahPolicy had pollster Dan Jones & Associates ask voters that if their local officials called such an election, would they be in favor or opposed to such a local sales tax increase for roads?


Jones found that 58 percent of Utahns said they favor such a tax increase, 41 percent oppose and 6 percent didn’t know.

Now, this is a poll statewide of registered voters. And there certainly could be different feelings within a specific city or county.

Still, local city and county council members in favor of such a small sales tax hike in their entities should be encouraged by the results – as it is always better to be ahead on a possible tax hike than behind.

HB362 will raise the state’s per-gallon gasoline tax by 5 cents per gallon come Jan. 1, 2016.

After that, on an annual basis, depending on the price of gasoline at the oil refinery, the state tax will adjusted – mostly likely up as the price of gasoline climbs.

The retail price of gasoline is very competitive. And legislators didn’t want to allow local governments/voters to tax the price of gasoline at the pump, since retailers across city/county lines would be in a competitive disadvantage.

So, to provide extra tax money for local roads and transit districts, lawmakers opted to let voters decide if they wanted to raise their own overall sales tax slightly.

Across the state, the local option sales tax hike would bring in $145.7 million by 2017 for roads and transit districts, legislative fiscal analysts estimate.

If there is a mass transit district inside of the local government entity, then the district will get 0.10 percent of the 0.25 percent sales tax.

Jones found that among Republicans the quarter-cent sales tax hike is favored, 52-42 percent; among Democrats its favored, 69-28 percent; and among political independents its favored, 53-40 percent.

So in conservative, GOP-dominated parts of the state local officials may still have some selling to do to get voters’ approval on the tax hike.

HB362 was a master compromise by its sponsor Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, and other leading GOP legislators.

In a year with a $739 million surplus, moderate and conservative Republicans had to get enough legislative support for a tax hike – no easy feat.

You can see the Senate vote here, and the House vote here. Without Democratic support HB362 would not have passed in the House.

Cities, counties and mass transit district officials had to agree to a unified front, and not squabble among themselves over the 0.25 cents on the dollar tax hike.

Now local officials will have to convince their voters to approve the quarter-cent sales tax increase for local roads and mass transit.

Jones polled 601 registered voters between March 30 and April 7, margin of error is plus or minus 4.0 percent.