Public Policy – August Update

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

As the “Voice of Business” and Utah’s statewide chamber, the Salt Lake Chamber leads out on critical issues that impact Utah businesses and our community. In the coming weeks, here is how we plan to “move the dial” to grow our economy, promote community prosperity and champion business in Utah, as well as ways for you to participate for the month of August and beyond.

*   *   *

Public Policy

We are excited to announce that Michael Merrill has been promoted to Director of Public Policy for the Salt Lake Chamber. Michael will continue to focus and enhance the Chamber’s major initiatives, including economic development, infrastructure, the environment, Utah’s workforce and ensuring Utah’s premier business climate.

Additionally, Jesse Dean has been promoted to Director of Urban Development for the Downtown Alliance, focusing on economic development and urban policies in Salt Lake City’s downtown.

*   *   *

Prosperity 2020

Prosperity 2020 is actively engaged in ensuring that our state has a world-class workforce and supporting education in our state. This includes recently speaking out in favor of extending the No Child Left Behind waiver.

In addition to these efforts, Prosperity 2020is looking to share how businesses are engaged in supporting education. Please take five minutes to complete this short survey to provide insight for the policymakers and others who ask what industry is saying about education’s impact on their companies.

If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Allyson Bell at 801-328-5076 or abell@prosperity2020.com.

*   *   *

Natural Resources Business Council: August meeting focused on public lands initiative

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 | 7:30 – 9:00 AM

The Natural Resource Business Council represents an inclusive approach to multiple sectors of Utah’s economy. The Council is the guiding body for the water,  energy and minerals, clean air, and outdoor recreation and tourism task forces.

This month’s meeting will focus on updates from the Chamber’s efforts in these areas, as well as an update from Rep. Rob Bishop on the Public Lands Initiative.

If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Michael Merrill at 801.558.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Regulation: Chamber partnering on Utah Solutions Summit regarding regulation

Thursday, Aug.21, 2014 | 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM

We are partnering with Sen. Mike Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, and the Utah Association of Counties for the Utah Solutions Summit on Thursday, August 21, 2014 to discuss the vast and uncertain regulatory burden under which businesses are required to comply and develop solutions to move our economy forward.

The agenda includes discussions with business leaders and government offi­cials about regulation compliance as well as the relationship between regulation and economic development. Included featured keynote speakers: U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

If you have any other questions or comments, please reach out to Justin Jones at 801.558.9371 or jjones@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Clean Air: 6th Annual Clear the Air Challenge another success

We all have a role in keeping our air clean and the 2014 Clear the Air Challenge was another great success exhibiting Utahns and Utah businesses’ willingness to drive smarter and drive less. More than 6,800 participants eliminated over 140,000 single-occupancy vehicles trips, averting more than 2 million miles traveled.

The winners of this year’s challenge will be announced on August 16 at 9:00 a.m. at the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park on the main stage. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Ryan Evans at 801.328.5063.

*   *   *

Water: Chamber announces new effort to address Utah’s water challenges

As part of the “Utah | Water Is Your Business” week, the Salt Lake Chamber announced a co-chair for the newly launched water committee: Rob Moore, president of Big-D Construction. The Chamber water committee will focus on best practices for business in water conservation and management, and will also look at current and future infrastructure needs. To learn more, please visit “Utah | Water Is Your Business.” You can also follow the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #UTbiz4H2O.

We will have updates in the very near future on the committee including meeting dates and ways to participate. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Michael Merrill at 801.558.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Utah Transportation Coalition: Mountain transportation and Aerotroplis

Save the Date – Aerotroplis Guest Speaker – Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014

This past month Utah Transportation Coalition and Mountain Accord hosted business and community leaders to discuss the future of transportation in Utah’s Central Wasatch. Mountain transportation is one of the key transportation objectives for Utah’s business community because of its possible impact on our economy, quality of life, and opportunities to strengthen and enhance our natural environment.

The Salt Lake Chamber and Utah Transportation Coalition support these efforts to explore transportation options in the Wasatch Mountains that increase accessibility, are a net-positive for the environment, encourage transit, enhance Utah’s global brand, and pass a rigorous environmental and local process. For more information about the Mountain Accord Process, please visit www.mountainaccord.com.

Addtionally, the Utah Transportation Coalition and Parsons Brinkerhoff will be hosting an Aerotroplis forum on October 16 to discuss the importance of the connection between Salt Lake City International Airport and Utah’s economy. The airport just recently broke ground on a 10-year terminal rebuild and released a report detailing the economic impact of the airport.

For more details, visit www.utahtransportation.org or contact Michael Merrill at 801.558.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Energy: 2014 Uintah Basin Energy Summit

Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 – Vernal

Utah’s rich and diverse energy sector is one key reason behind our state’s thriving economy. This September key stakeholders will gather in one of Utah’s richest energy regions. The Uintah Basin Energy Summit is a complement to the Governor’s Energy Summit that focuses directly on economic growth and energy development in the Uintah Basin. The summit will be in held in Vernal, Utah, on September 4, 2014.

This region is extremely important to Utah’s broader business community. Most recently, the Utah State Chamber, the coordinating entity for chambers of commerce throughout Utah, held its annual summer meeting in the Uintah Basin. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Michael Merrill at 801.558-5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism: 2014 Summer Outdoor Retailer and Economic Club of Utah

Outdoor recreation and tourism represent robust business sectors that benefit both urban and rural Utah. We view efforts to enhance these industries as vital to economic development. This past month we held an industry focus group and will continue to engage Utah’s outdoor products and services companies.

As part of that effort, the Salt Lake Chamber visited the 2014 Summer Outdoor Retailer show and connected with key industry leaders. Additionally, the Chamber is supporting the Economic Club of Utah’s Summer Meeting, which is focusing on Utah’s outdoor economy.

We are also excited about our continued partnership with the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation and Office of Tourism, Global Branding and Film as we look to grow these industries.

*   *   *

Downtown Alliance: Downtown still rising

In July 2014, the Downtown Alliance released the “2014 State of Downtown Economic Benchmark Report” from 2013 through first quarter 2014. This report tells a story of a constantly evolving and improving regional center for culture, commerce and entertainment. Economic activity and tax revenues continue to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, with retail sales reaching over $800 million in eating, drinking, clothing department and other downtown retail categories. Over the last year, dozens of new office buildings, residential developments, hotels, theaters and public structures either broke ground or opened within 1.08 square mile Central Business District. For more information and a full copy of this report, please click here.

Looking forward to 2014-2015, there are several opportunities for improvement within the Central Business District. The Downtown Alliance will focus on policies and programs that impact the following areas:

- Redevelopment in downtown’s burgeoning entrepreneurial and transit-oriented neighborhood, the Depot District.
- Nightlife economy and creating a dynamic and diverse downtown that is welcoming to locals and visitors alike.
- Continued residential development to create a 24/7 urban center welcome to all ages, backgrounds and income levels.
- Development-friendly codes and zoning in order to remain a regional competitor for urban infill.

If you are interested in learning more about the Downtown Alliance’s initiatives or have any questions, please contact Director of Urban Development Jesse Dean at jesse@downtownslc.org.

*   *   *

Health System Reform: Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan

Health System Reform Task Force meeting – Thursday, Aug.28, 2014

We are actively engaged in a number of issues in regards to health care and the business community. This includes the discussions around the Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan, the continued implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) and its impact on businesses, as well as directly engaging Utah’s employers as the largest payer in health care spending.

The Health System Reform Task Force will be meeting on August 28. If you have any other questions or comments, please reach out to Justin Jones at 801.558.9371 or jjones@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

International: Utah Global Forum

Utah Global Forum – Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014

On September 24, 2014, Utah will host the first of its kind Global Forum. Topics will include Building a Global Brand; Doing Business in Europe, Mexico, Canada and China; Shared Stories of Success from Utah Companies Abroad; Financing Your Global Expansion; and Global Operational Efficiency Through Sound Legal, Tax and Accounting Practices. The agenda for the event has been released and features a number of world-renowned business and trade experts.

If you’re thinking about exporting, looking to invest in one of the fastest growing economies in the United States or seeking inspiration to take your business to the next level, you won’t want to miss out on this forum.

For questions regarding the Utah Global Forum, please visit www.utahglobalforum.com.

 

Mountain Transportation

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Last week, the Utah Transportation Coalition and Mountain Accord hosted business and community leaders to discuss the future of transportation in Utah’s Central Wasatch. Mountain Transportation is one of the key transportation objectives for Utah’s business community because of its possible impact on our economy, quality of life and opportunities to strengthen and enhance our natural environment.

The discussion hosted at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort focused on the current Mountain Accord process. Led by Utah Transportation Coalition Co-Chair David R. Golden, the panel include Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Wasatch Front Regional Council Executive Director Andrew Grubber, Deer Valley President and CEO, Bob Wheaton and Utah Transit Authority General Manager, Michael Allegra. The panel shared the current progress of Mountain Accord and stressed the need for continued engagement, collaboration and focus on the long-term opportunities.

The Salt Lake Chamber and Utah Transportation Coalition support these efforts to explore transportation options in the Wasatch Mountain that increase accessibility, are a net-positive for the environment, encourage transit, enhance Utah’s global brand, and pass a rigorous environmental and local process. For more information about the Mountain Accord Process please visit www.mountainaccord.com.

Public Policy – July Update

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

As the “Voice of Business” and Utah’s statewide Chamber, the Salt Lake Chamber leads out on critical issues that impact Utah businesses and our community. In the coming weeks, here is how we plan to “move the dial” to grow our economy, promote community prosperity and champion business in Utah, as well as ways for you to participate.

Public Policy

The Salt Lake Chamber has named Rich Walje, President and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power as Public Policy Chair starting July 1, 2014. The Policy Chair is an Executive Board member which guides the Chamber’s various public policy initiatives and acts as a liaison with the Executive Board on policy.

“The Salt Lake Chamber fills an essential role in our community as the voice of business on public policy issues. Apart from narrowly-focused industry associations, the Chamber gives a voice to broad-based business issues in the community and on the Hill,” said Walje.

Additionally, Chris Gamvroulas, President Ivory Development and Ivory Homes, was also named Vice Chair, Public Policy. Walje has set an aggressive agenda for the coming year for improving the chamber’s efforts in public policy and strengthening influence on key policy issues.

The Executive Board is the only policy body of the Salt Lake Chamber responsible for the Chamber’s commercial, industrial, public, legislative and financial policies. The Executive Board consists of members of the Board of Governors and the Downtown Alliance Board of Trustees. All of the Chamber’s extensive policy task forces and committees are advisory to the Executive Board through the Public Policy Chair.

*   *   *

Clean Air

We all have a role in keeping our air clean. Businesses, citizens and government share our roads and breathe the same air. We should all do our part clean our air and the Clear the Air Challenge is perfect opportunity to show that you care about air quality! This statewide Challenge begins on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

1. Remember, it’s all about driving smarter and driving less. Find out how your company and employees can participate at www.cleartheairchallenge.org.

If you have any other questions, concerns or comments about the Clear the Air Challenge, feel free to reach out to Ben Hoyle at 801.328.5056 or bhoyle@slchamber.com.

Also – our next Clean Air Task Force meeting will be Wednesday, August 13, at 7:30-9:00 a.m. with the Chamber’s Natural Resources Business Council. For more information about the task force, please contact Ryan Evans at 801.328.5063 or revans@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Capitol Club

“The Salt Lake Chamber Capitol Club gives business professionals unrivaled access to Utah’s leaders,” said Dan Harbeke, director public affairs of Union Pacific Railroad. “If you are interested in an inside look to how policy in Utah works, I’d encourage you to join.”

The Capitol Club provides the opportunity to gain professional development in public policy, public affairs and  especially for those interested in the policy issues affecting Utah’s business community. The next Capitol Club event will be Monday, July 16, with the newly appointed executive director of the Utah Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), Ivy Estabrooke.

If you are interested in participating in Capitol Club contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *    *

Regulation

We advocate for simplified and reasonable regulation as well as predictable and certain laws, so rational people can be confident in deploying resources into a productive economy. To that end we are partnering with Sen. Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, and the Utah Association of Counties for the Utah Solutions Summit on Thursday, August 21, 2014 to discuss the vast and uncertain regulatory burden under which businesses are required to comply and develop solutions to move our economy forward.

We will have more information about the Solutions Summit, including sponsorship opportunities, in the coming days. If you have any other questions, concerns or comments, feel free to reach out to Justin Jones at 801.558-9371 or jjones@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Water

We invite you to join business and community leaders to discuss the importance of water infrastructure and the impact of water availability on our economy, business environment and economic development efforts, as well as how Utah businesses are making a difference with “Utah: Water is Your Business Week,” which will take place the week of August 4 – 8, 2014. This will include a number of items including the launch of Chamber’s Water Task Force.

We are looking for great stories about how your business is practicing water management and conservation. We invite you to join in sponsoring this great event. For more information and to share your company’s water stories, please contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Prosperity 2020

The Salt Lake Chamber has partnered with chambers of commerce and business associations from all over Utah in a movement called Prosperity 2020 to strengthen our economy by improving education. Prosperity 2020 is currently working towards an Education Forum later this fall as well as working closely with the Legislature’s Education Task Force. The next Prosperity 2020 Founders Council meeting is Monday, August 25 at 1:00-2:30 p.m.

To become involved in Prosperity 2020, please contact Jana Scott at 801-328-5043 or jscott@prosperity2020.com.

Additionally, the Prosperity 2020 Business Promise seeks to deploy 20,200 volunteers into Utah’s school system. If your business is interested in taking a more active role to support education, please contact Julie Johnsson at 801.328.5082 or jjohnsson@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Utah Transportation Coalition

On June 23, the Utah Transportation Coalition held the 2014 Open House with terrific presentations from UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras, Utah Transit Authority General Manager Michael Allegra, and House Transportation Committee Chair and Interim Transportation Committee Co-Chair Rep. Johnny Anderson. The event is just one of dozens the Utah Transportation Coalition hosts every year to promote continued investment in Utah’s transportation infrastructure. These events are reserved or significantly discounted for Coalition members and include an upcoming Mountain Transportation event that we will have more details on in the coming weeks.

The Coalition is currently looking for new members to collaborate with our partners to make smart and sustainable transportation choices and to secure adequate, stable and long-term funding to support a high quality of life and economic growth in Utah.

If your company is interested in participating, contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Natural Resources Business Council

Our Natural Resources Business Council (Council) is an inclusive approach to multiple sectors of Utah’s economy including the Chamber’s Water, Clean Air, Energy and Minerals, and Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Task Forces. This past month the Council heard presentations on the nexus between transportation and the NRBC, as well as the possibility of developing a Chamber corporate sustainability report.

The next Council meeting will be on Wednesday, August 13 at 7:30-9:00 a.m. For more information, please contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

The Salt Lake Chamber held its first Outdoor Recreation and Tourism meeting on June 5 with an industry focus group to better understand the needs of this critical asset to Utah’s economy. The groups discussed challenges with regulation, coordination with our economic development partners and perceptual issues faced by Utah’s tourism industry. We want to thank all of our participants.

The Chamber will be working closely with the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, Office of Tourism Global Branding on a number of events in the coming months and establish an ongoing task force. If you would like to participate in future events, please contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Energy and Minerals

Utah’s rich and diverse energy sector is one key reason behind our state’s thriving economy and the third annual Utah Governor’s Energy Development Summit on June 3-4, 2014, honored that contribution by setting the stage for the sector to continue to power our state’s economy. The Salt Lake Chamber welcomed the opportunity to support the summit. Read more about the summit.

To build on the summit, the Energy and Minerals Task Force meeting on Wednesday, July 9 at 8:00 a.m. will receive a briefing on the Utah Energy Efficiency and Conservation Plan from the Office of Energy Development and a presentation on clean energy technology start-ups. For more information, please contact Michael Merrill at 801-328.5068 or mmerrill@slchamber.com.

*   *   *

Health System Reform

The Salt Lake Chamber in collaboration the Utah Hospital Association, American Cancer Association, AARP of Utah, Voices for Utah Children and Utah Health Policy Project sponsored a phone and email survey to better understand the public’s sentiment of the Governor’s “Healthy Utah Plan.”

A poll of 623 registered voters in May and June by Dan Jones & Associates found:

• 88 percent favor Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” plan over doing nothing.
• 70 percent prefer Herbert’s plan to a straightforward Medicaid expansion as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.
• 59 percent say they support or strongly support Herbert’s plan.

The Health System Reform Task Force received a briefing on this polling data at our June 26 meeting and you can read about the results here.

The next Health System Reform task force will be Thursday, August 28, at 8:00 a.m. If you would like to participate in future Health System Reform events, please contact Justin Jones at 801.328.5071 or jjones@slchamber.com.

 

Downtown Alliance

Join the Downtown Alliance on Friday, July 11, for the 2014 State of Downtown, which celebrates our evolving urban center. Downtown is in the midst of a remarkable transformation with new residents, businesses and buildings shaping our urban fabric. This event will highlight these dramatic changes and forecast our future.

Also at the 2014 State of Downtown, the Downtown Alliance will be releasing the 2013 Economic Benchmark Report for downtown Salt Lake City, which presents facts about the downtown economy to stakeholders, property owners, tenants, investors, developers, retailers, brokers, theaters, museums, policy makers and civic leaders. You can read the 2012 report here.

If you would like to participate in future Downtown Alliance events, please contact Jesse Dean at 801-328.5045 or jesse@downtownslc.org.

 *   *   *

International – World Trade Center

Derek Miller, former chief of staff to Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, has been named president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, a licensed and certified member of the World Trade Centers Association, which is headquartered in New York City.

The World Trade Center Utah is strategic partner of the Salt Lake Chamber and you can read more about Derek’s appointment here.

On September 24, 2014, Utah will host the first of its kind Global Forum. Topics will include Building a Global Brand; Doing Business in Europe, Mexico, Canada, and China; Shared Stories of Success from Utah companies abroad; Financing Your Global Expansion; and Global Operational Efficiency Through Sound Legal, Tax and Accounting Practices.

If you’re thinking about exporting, looking to invest in one of the fastest growing economies in the United States or seeking inspiration to take your business to the next level, you won’t want to miss out. Visit wtcutah.com.

Op-Ed: Utah’s transportation budget struggles

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Editor’s note: This op-ed was written by Johnny Anderson  and was published on the Deseret News here. Anderson represents Utah’s House District 34 and chairs the Transportation Committee.

The April 16 article by Joan Lowy of The Associated Press titled, “The Transportation Blues,” describes the transportation funding woes of the federal government. The potential loss of or decline in federal transportation dollars will seriously impact Utah. I wanted readers to understand that impact as well as our current funding situation.

According to Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan, we are facing a shortfall of $11.3 billion over the next 25 years in our transportation infrastructure development and maintenance needs. Roughly one-third of that need is at the state level, another one-third at the local level and the remaining one-third is for transit. This is based on our projected population growth and development plans.

In order to limit this discussion to roads, let’s ignore transit funding leaving a $7.5 billion shortfall. Therefore we need approximately $300 million additional per year for the next 25 years to meet our road capacity and maintenance needs. UDOT’s budget for 2013 was just over $1.2 billion, so adding $300 million is a considerable amount. However, if we don’t begin to tackle this issue, then Utah’s transportation system, road congestion and air quality will get progressively worse.

Road maintenance is an important job of both UDOT and local governments. Despite how good our roads might be now, road maintenance is an area where we need to do much better. Local governments are having trouble affording maintenance costs. Most state roads receive appropriate, preventative maintenance but not all. We have thousands of miles of state rural roads that we cannot afford to proactively maintain. Although this is currently a budgetary necessity, it is a terrible strategy. A road is at least six times less expensive to proactively maintain than to just fill potholes. Well-maintained roads last longer and are safer.

Of the $300 million per year we need to meet our funding shortfall, about $67 million would bring all state roads into the proactively maintained category and would pay for all of the bridges and overpasses that need to be replaced. So, even if we didn’t come up with the $300 million we need to properly prepare for growth, we still need the $67 million per year for proper maintenance. The $300 million is very necessary, the $67 million is critical.

Now for the really scary part. Of UDOT’s 2013 budget of $1.2 billion, over $200 million is federal funds. If Congress does not act to restore solvency to the Transportation Trust Fund, we could see that $200 million quickly become less than $10 million in 2015. So our critical need of $67 million quickly jumps to over $250 million for that year.

This year’s Legislative Transportation Interim Committee will work on ideas to deal with our funding shortfall. There will be debate about increasing taxes and whether it is more appropriate to increase the gas tax, registration fees, sales tax or some of each. It will be a difficult task but it must be accomplished. The growth is coming and our infrastructure continues to age.

We can work together and demonstrate the courage and forethought needed to address the problem or we can end up in the same predicament that New Jersey is in. An April 16 New York Times article, “Ailing Pulaski Skyway Offers a Lesson in Creative Financing,”describes how Gov. Chris Christie had to stop a desperately needed congestion relief project and divert money to a failing 82-year-old bridge that is rusting away. We can pay a little now to stay ahead of the problem or pay a lot more later by refusing to act.

 

Key policies to reinvigorate our nation’s transportation program

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Building from conversations with business, civic and elected leaders in communities throughout the country, Transportation for America has developed a platform of seven broad policies to reboot the nation’s federal transportation program and put it—and the nation—on sound footing.

Salt Lake City and Utah continue to be highlighted as a leader in transportation investment and unrivaled partnerships. This document helps summarize these efforts and many others that highlight a path forward for transportation policy in Utah. You can down the document here and read more about Transportation for America at t4america.org.

Why does federal government have a role in transportation funding?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Janet Kavinoky talks about the need for infrastructure investment. She is a national recognized expert in transportation policy, funding and finance.

Kavinoky developed and leads the Chamber’s Let’s Rebuild America (LRA) initiative to raise the profile of infrastructure issues, broaden stakeholder engagement, and create new opportunities for businesses to influence public policy.

How the 2014 General Session impacted business

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The Utah business community commends the Utah legislature for another great year for business. The 2014 General Session wrapped up in March, and the newly released Salt Lake Chamber 2014 Legislative Scorecard highlights how the business community’s policy priorities fared.

“Utah’s economy 
is in a spectacular position because
 of the leadership 
of our Governor, Legislature and
 our great business community working together to bring compromise for important progress for our state,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

The Salt Lake Chamber Vote website monitored the course of 298 bills that had an impact on business through the legislative session. Through that website tool, more than 9,800 emails were sent to state representatives, asking them to act on policy decisions. Eleven of 13 business community priority bills passed, and the average of “yes” votes on priority bills stood at 83 percent. With a 93 percent passage of supported bills, 2014 was an excellent year for Utah’s business community.

Here’s what the Utah’s Legislature helped accomplish this year:

STRENGTHENED COMMITMENT TO EDUCATION

•  Provided $62 million to public education, increasing the weighted pupil unit by 2.5 percent and
another $62 million to fund 10,300 new students
• Invested toward goal of 66 percent of adults with a postsecondary degree or certificate, providing $50 million to equalize funding and increase capacity in our state’s higher education institutions
• Expanded efforts to reach goals of 90 percent proficiency in reading and math among Utah students, allocating more than $7 million for preschool and early intervention programs for at-risk children, and $20 million to STEM education

ENHANCED COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY

• Approved a multi-decade effort to support the development of a convention center hotel, benefiting
the entire state
• Authorized $400,000 in business marketing, corporate recruitment and business expansion efforts, as well as $15 million in tourism marketing
• Addressed critical community issues through investing $100,000 to incentivize employers to hire the homeless
• Tackled issues of panhandling and solicitation around Utah’s highways and sidewalks that negatively impact the ability to conduct business in a safe manner
• Partnered to fund $400,000 for the Your Utah, Your Future quality growth initiative

ACTED TO IMPROVE AIR QUALITY

• Funded a $500,000 air quality education campaign
• Provided $1 million in scientific research to help better understand the causes of air pollution
• Established a $200,000 fund to help small businesses reduce air emissions through new technologies and programs
• Created a $250,000 fund to incentivize the conversion of sole-source wood burning homes to cleaner energy heating
• Addressed mobile emissions through enabling enhanced infrastructure for electric vehicles,
providing tax credits to purchase alternative fuel vehicles and mandating 50 percent of the State’s vehicle fleet to be highly efficient vehicles by 2015

ESTABLISHED PLATFORM FOR FUTURE ACTION

• Jump-started a robust conversation to address both the $11.3 billion funding gap outlined in the 2040 Unified Transportation Plan and the significant need for increased education funding
• Moved toward improving Utah’s air quality and set the stage for further discussions on issues such as Tier 3 fuels and improving statewide transit systems

The 2014 Legislative Scorecard also has a bill-by-bill tally of priority bills and their impacts on Utah business. To see the PDF of the 2014 Legislative Scorecard, click here

 

How are local governments funding roads?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Keeping up with rising costs and flat revenue: how are local governments funding roads?

With 43,000 miles of public roads in Utah it is hard to imagine how to keep all of the infrastructure maintained. This week on “The County Seat,” Terry Wood discusses the topic of road funding with:

• Ron Whitehead, public works director Washington County
• Jim Eardley, Washington County Commissioner
• Cameron Diehl, Utah League of Cities and Towns

What are the challenges of funding roads in Utah and what options have been discussed in the past and the present. What will the picture look like in the future?

Time to raise Utah’s motor fuel tax

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Editor’s note: This article was written by Natalie Gochnour, associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber. It was originally published on the Deseret News

Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.

This quip, made by Louisiana Sen. Russell Long, captures Utah’s approach to the motor fuel tax. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for 17 years. It’s time for a serious and informed discussion about raising Utah’s motor fuel tax to make up for lost purchasing power and improved fuel efficiency.

I’m not alone in this viewpoint. Several conservative legislators, like Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, and Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, have proposed changes to Utah’s gas tax this session. And with good reason. Unlike sales or income taxes, which increase with the price level, the motor fuel tax loses purchasing power over time because it is a per-gallon tax. In inflation-adjusted terms it’s dropped from 24.5 cents per gallon in 1997 (the last time it was raised) to 16.9 cents per gallon today, a 45 percent loss in buying power.

Making matters worse, passenger cars are becoming more fuel-efficient — a good thing except when it comes to paying for the impacts. For every gallon consumed, more wear and tear is placed on the roads. The average fuel efficiency of U.S. passenger cars has increased from 28.7 miles per gallon in 1997 to 35.6 today.

Bottom line: You have to periodically raise the motor fuel tax just to stay even. Staying even is not a tax increase.

And let’s be honest. We have to do a lot more than stay even. Utah’s population grows by approximately 50,000 people each year. Ninety-one percent of Utahns live in urban settings. We have urban problems like traffic congestion and air pollution. If we don’t take care of our road maintenance needs we increase our costs in the future. We must make mighty investments in transportation to support commerce and maintain our life quality.

The Utah Legislature understands this. They’ve invested substantially in Legacy Parkway, I-15 in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties and other projects throughout the state.

But it’s come at a cost.

We’ve borrowed huge sums of money increasing our net general obligation debt per capita from $434 just five years ago to $1,161 today. Today our debt ratio is second highest among Moody’s AAA-rated states. This year in the Transportation Investment Fund we will spend more money on debt service than on projects. We can’t borrow more and remain fiscally responsible.

We’ve also earmarked record amounts of sales tax to transportation projects. In 1997, the state earmarked less than $10 million of sales tax revenue. Today, we earmark over $450 million. We can’t earmark any more and adequately fund other needs.

That leaves us with four options: do without (not a good choice for the economy), take from other government services like education (ill-advised when investment is already low), raise general taxes (poor choice in an uncertain economy) or adjust the motor fuel tax to recover lost purchasing power.

Raising the motor fuel tax is by far the best option.

The motor fuel tax is a user fee. Unlike most government services, transportation is metered at every pump. It you drive more, you pay more. That’s fair. If you pay more, you are incentivized to use less — a good thing for congestion and air quality. Such is the magic of a user fee. It brings the power of market forces to the provision of government services.

Some will say the motor fuel tax is a dying revenue. I disagree. It’s only dying if the Legislature refuses to act. Some will say motor fuel taxes hurt low-income families. Let’s find other ways to help them. Some will say it’s an election year and the Legislature won’t entertain a tax increase. Maybe so, but when you kick the can down the road the pile gets bigger and bigger.

The Utah economy benefits from transportation infrastructure. We need to have the foresight to have users pay for it.

Photo credit: futureatlas.com

OP-ED: Give Utah cities power to increase transit funding

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: This op-ed was written by A. Scott Anderson, CEO and president of Zions Bank, and published in the Deseret News here

Air quality is one of the biggest issues facing the 2014 legislative session. “Red Air” days damage our health and keep sensitive people from enjoying the outdoors. Poor air quality is also hurting Utah’s economic development and tourism.

Many groups, including the Salt Lake Chamber, are working to improve air quality, and progress is being made. The Legislature could take another significant step forward by giving local governments an important tool to help clean the air along the Wasatch Front. It is one of the simplest, yet highly effective, things lawmakers could do for clean air in this session.

The Legislature should lift the cap on local-option sales tax funding for public transit and transportation, giving local governments, and ultimately voters, an important tool they need to combat dirty air.

Many citizens and local leaders would like to expand transit services in their communities, making it more convenient and frequent, thus taking cars off roads and improving air quality. But some counties are at the limit of what they can ask voters to approve for public transit, so they need the Legislature to lift the cap. Any additional funding would require approval by voters in an election.

In providing this critical tool, the Legislature would not be increasing taxes, or even authorizing a vote on taxes. They would simply be giving local leaders — and voters — some flexibility in combating dirty air. Local leaders, along with citizens, could decide if air quality and mobility are important enough to ask voters if they wish to increase sales tax funding for public transit. It would be entirely optional, and voters would have the final say.

We know that 57 percent of air pollution during inversions is emitted from vehicles. Less driving means better air quality. We know that increased use of public transit can make a real difference. Here are some facts:

· Transit currently takes more than 120,000 cars off Wasatch Front roads daily, the equivalent of more than 850,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) eliminated daily, netting about 1,500 tons of emissions eliminated annually.

· If Wasatch Front residents used transit instead of driving the equivalent of just one day per week for work and college trips, weekday ridership would triple, taking another 240,000 cars off the roads each day, saving 10 million VMT daily and reducing vehicle emissions by 3,000 tons annually.

· Across the entire Wasatch Front, transit accounts for about 5 percent (90,000) of total daily work and college trips. For every 1 percent increase, 16,000 new transit trips would be added, 14,000 vehicles would be removed from the roads each day, with more than 103,000 VMT eliminated daily and about 88 tons of emissions reduced annually.

If the Legislature lifts the cap, and citizens decide they want more public transit, then cities, counties, and Wasatch Front planning organizations are well-prepared to direct the Utah Transit Authority to use additional funding in ways that will significantly improve transit convenience and frequency, increasing ridership and helping improve air quality.

Improvements can come quickly. Studies and experience in other markets show that when buses come by more frequently, with more stops in more neighborhoods, with fewer required transfers, ridership increases significantly.

But increased transit frequency and convenience will require more investment. Most Wasatch Front peer regions (Denver, Dallas, Houston, Austin) fund their transit systems at the sales tax equivalent of a penny per dollar. Wasatch Front counties currently vary between 1/2 and 5/8 of a penny. If public transit was funded at a full cent, as recommended in the state’s Unified Transportation Plan, UTA could quickly increase service of existing bus and train lines, double ridership within a few years, and increase transit access for more than 275,000 additional households. Many high-use routes would see service every 10 to 15 minutes.

I’m not suggesting the Legislature raise taxes or even authorize a vote for more taxes. That would be left entirely to local governments and voters. Lifting the cap would provide this important tool to local governments. In the interest of improved air quality and mobility, I encourage lawmakers to do so.