Tax to fund arts, culture in Salt Lake County back on the ballot

Posted at 10:12 PM, Oct 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-02 00:12:25-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Supporters said it's what keeps cultural staples in Salt Lake County going, but not everyone is in favor of the so-called boutique tax.

While there is some resistance, the ZAP tax is a vote getter. It received more than 70 percent support back in 2004. Now it's back on the ballot.

"We have over four million people who have been able to experience ZAP events at no costs," said Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder-Newton. "If there were ever such a thing as a popular tax, this would be it."

That's how Councilwoman Winder-Newton touts the ZAP tax, which has been around since 1996. Voters have approved the 10 year initiative for the past two decades. Now there's pressure to make sure it survives another 10.

"We like to offer four free days a year for families to come up and enjoy the zoo free of charge as our way of saying thank you for the ZAP support because it's crucial to the survival of the zoo," said Erica Hansen, the Community Relations Coordinator for Utah's Hogle Zoo.

Supporters said it's crucial for not only the zoo but the Utah Arts festival, Red Butte Garden and Tracy Aviary. In 2013, nearly $14 million in ZAP funding was doled out and about 4 million people get a free ticket to an arts or cultural event each year.

"We would ask and encourage the taxpayers to really ask themselves: Have we evaluated that this is the way we want our money spent?" says Billy Hesterman, the VP of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

He goes on to say: "We certainly have concerns with them as a tax policy. We believe they earmark dollars as they come into a city or any type of government entity, and that the money then is only set for that need. So it ties the hands of elected officials to be able to provide essential services potentially. If they need that money to go somewhere else they can't do it, because it's already dedicated to that one area."

With that said, the Utah Taxpayers Association said they don't think the ZAP tax is going away any time soon.

The ZAP tax comes from the state's sales tax. One penny for every $10 goes to funding 160 arts and cultural organizations and more than 30 park and recreation facilities.

The ZAP tax is effective through 2016, but it will be on the ballot this November, which means if voters approve it, the initiative will be in place until 2026.