Legislators took a victory lap of sorts on Thursday morning as they touted the passage of SB136, which significantly changed transit in Utah.
The bill, which overhauls the Utah Transit Authority and improves funding for transit projects.
"This is only the first step in bolstering our transit systems," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "This effort is ongoing. The state is going to double in population over the next 40 years. Transit is going to be a big part of what we do."
SB136, which passed the full legislature Wednesday night, makes major changes to the Utah Transit Authority, including eliminating the current board and replacing them with commissioners appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert. The UTA will also change their name to Transit District Utah.
The legislation also allows counties the option to raise sales taxes so counties can fund transit projects. Plus, there's an increase in registration fees for alternative fuel vehicles to make up for diminishing gas taxes.
The legislation also shifts $5 million of ongoing revenue from the gas tax to transit. That money will be used for securing federal money for transit projects.
"We've learned that you have to have matching funds when you try to get federal money," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, the original sponsor of the bill. "We're giving locals the key tools they need to work on planning, land use and economic development around these projects."
Davis County Commissioner Brett Milburn says he's excited that there will be money available for local entities because that's the lifeblood for these kinds of projects.
"This is an opportunity for local communities to enhance what they're already doing," he said. "I'm pleased with the foresight, hard work, and gumption the legislature has shown to tackle these tough issues."
UTA has said the name change would cost around $50 million, but House sponsor Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, says that's nonsense.
"It's so far from the truth. We are not going to spend money on this that will take away from service just so we can change the name," he said. "The first thing you do when you purchase a failing business is you rebrand. This sends the message that this is a new day."
Legislators said the name change would be accomplished over time, not all at once, to better control costs. For example, when the agency runs out of letterhead, they'll order replacements with the new name/logo.
A controversial part of the bill eliminates the UTA's in-house counsel, shifting those duties to the Attorney General's office. Schultz says, while some may see ill intent in the move, it's designed to increase accountability.
"We will now have state attorneys inside the office. There is not a better check and balance than that," said Schultz. "This is not going to be popular for some inside of the organization, but it's the right thing to do."
Niederhauser was quick to point out that SB136 is just a starting point for lawmakers, who will have some significant growth challenges ahead of them.
"Our population is going to double over the next 40 years. There are more steps we need to take, but this is a great perspective going forward."