There are few things more exciting in politics than seeing a fresh face come along with a strong, new voice and some creative, conservative ideas. Mia Love, Saratoga Springs, UT mayor and congressional candidate in Utah’s 4th congressional district, appears to be such a candidate. In her recent interview with our own Glenn Reynolds, Love comes across as a dream candidate for conservatives, Tea Partiers and for the GOP.
She digs Bastiat and has nothing nice to say at all about Barack Obama. Those are two major points in Mia Love’s favor right there.
But is her mayoral record as conservative as her rhetoric? The Salt Lake Tribune shows a mixed picture.
Love was sworn in as a member of the City Council in 2004 in the town of just more than 3,000. Five years later, the population had exploded to 16,000-plus. New homes popped up around the city, and the budget and full-time staff, paid by the flood of building permit revenue, swelled.
But when the housing bubble burst, Saratoga Springs was hit especially hard. In 2008, facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 million, the council faced an option of a 400 percent tax increase or slashing the budget.
They did a little of both, cutting the budget by about $2 million, laying off eight of the 85 employees and — in the most controversial move — more than doubling the property tax rates, imposing a 116 percent increase.
“When the city was in trouble, we rolled up our sleeves and started to cut everything,” Love said.
At the same time, Love said the city hadn’t adjusted its property tax rate since it was incorporated and needed a reliable revenue stream instead of depending on building permits.
Mayor Love voted against an expensive city building project, but in 2007, 2008 and 2009, voted for city budgets that raised property taxes. Check page 72 on at the first two links, and page 115 on the third.
Back to the Tribune’s account, those votes have had an impact.
Since the 2008 crash, the Saratoga Springs budgets have crept upward again. In the 2009 budget year, the general fund expenses totaled $5.6 million. In the current budget year, they total nearly $9.2 million, a 64 percent increase.
At the same time, property tax rates have crept up to offset declining property value in the city.
Under Utah’s system, the rates can adjust up or down to bring in the same amount of revenue as the prior year without having to go through a truth in taxation hearing.
Saratoga Springs tax rates are now 0.31 percent, making them higher than the neighboring cities of Eagle Mountain, American Fork and Lehi.
Love, who left the City Council and was elected mayor of the city in 2009, said those cities have much higher utility rates and the growing budget reflects the demands of a growing city.
The city went from running a modest surplus of $316,428 in FY07-08 (page 15), to running a deficit of about $792,674 in FY08-09 (page 14). And the deficit went up again in FY10-11, to about $2.5 million.
Understand, I’m not here to attack Mia Love at all. But she does have a record in office, she’s running for a higher office, so it’s fair to examine how well the record matches the rhetoric. In this case, the record may explain why conservatives who have taken a close look at UT-4 have tended to back Carl Wimmer over Mia Love.