The displeasure resulted in a recent “clear the air” meeting between current GOP county councilmembers and Crockett, at which the councilmembers asked Crockett to explain how he comes up with the county being $2 billion in debt, and a request by the members that he not use what they consider an inaccurate number.
But weeks after the meeting Crockett, who served on the county council from 2005 through 2008, still has up on his campaign web site the $2 billion figure; the posting pointing toward county officials having been irresponsible in their own budgeting.
You can see Crockett’s budget web site here.
Crockett tells UtahPolicy that the issue is not where the county has been in recent budgets, but where it is headed today.
“Things are very different than they were” a few years ago when he was on the council.
“The county has spent too much and its operating budget” is in trouble, Crockett said.
Still, saying Salt Lake County government has been delinquent in good budgeting practices is a slap at the majority GOP county council, several Republican county officials tell UtahPolicy.
Republicans have controlled the council six of the last eight years – five Republicans to four Democrats. And while Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon may propose budgets, it’s the Republican council majority that adopts them – leaving a few of the GOP councilmen unhappy with Crockett’s fiscal irresponsibility claims.
“We all know that the mayor drives the agenda” in county government, said Crockett, who served on the nine-member council for four years. In this case, that is eight-year incumbent Corroon, who is retiring this year.
The council is not the problem, says Crockett. He even says he agrees with a number of the decisions Corroon has made during his two terms in the office Crockett now seeks.
“It is about your priorities,” said Crockett. “A vacation is a nice thing. But are school supplies for your children in the fall more important?”
One county GOP official who asked that his name not be used by UtahPolicy for personal and political reasons, said that county Republican councilmen were concerned that Crockett keeps saying that the county has not been well managed, in part, because it has “$2 billion” in debt.
“That is not the case; we don’t have that kind of debt,” this person said.
In a luncheon meeting between Crockett and GOP councilmembers UtahPolicy is told, Crockett said he included in his $2 billion figure debt incurred by the Utah Transit Authority.
Crockett told UtahPolicy he has never said that the county itself is $2 billion in debt, but that $2 billion in debt has been issued in the county – and that includes UTA.
But such figuring “is a bit far fetched,” this Republican said.
Crockett told his fellow Republicans that the $2 billion inclusion is based on the fact that the county council several years ago put on the ballot the question of whether county residents wished to impose a small sales tax increase dedicated to the UTA.
That sales tax passed, and UTA has used that revenue stream to bond at various times and for various amounts.
But several GOP don’t accept that, this person told UtahPolicy, because in fact any transit bonding is authorized by the UTA board, not the county council.
“Mark, I’m told, actually voted to put the UTA sales tax question on the ballot when he was on the council,” this person said. “And (his) vote was brought up at the meeting” between GOP councilmembers and Crockett.
“The county is really not heavily in debt,” says this Republican. “And that was pointed out just this week when the council voted (unanimously) to put a $47 million park bond on the general election ballot” this fall for voter approval or rejection.
“We were told at that council meeting by our bond counsel that this bond is so small, miniscule compared to the whole county budget, that it won’t jeopardize our AAA bond rating at all,” this Republican said.
And GOP councilmembers would like Crockett to stop saying that the county is “over its head in debt,” as his web site declares and as Crockett has repeated in campaign events.
Crockett’s campaign web site still has a budget page that says: “Over the past eight years, Salt Lake County has borrowed almost $2 billion. It spent too much and is almost out of money. Federal and state dollars propping up the County are shrinking and we can’t afford any more tax increases.”
“That simply is not the case,” says this county government Republican. “The county’s debt today is not much different than when Mark was on the council” from 2005 through 2008, he added.
In any case, the dust-up, small as it may seem, is an example of how difficult it can be at times for a party’s candidate to try to distance himself from actions made by members of his own party in power.
“I’m not running against any Republican (on the council or otherwise) in this race,” said Crockett.
“Yes, I did vote different than many other councilmembers when I was on the council,” he said. But there were many decisions made back then that he agrees with today.
“Peter Corroon has not made a whole bunch of bad decisions, either,” said Crockett.
It’s just that the economic times for local governments, including Salt Lake County, have changed so drastically that new ideas and processes must be undertaken, he adds.
“I’m not blaming the county council nor lay this at their feet,” he said. “It’s not about blame. It’s about priorities.”
Still, Crockett says the county and other local entities should be borrowing less considering the current economic conditions.