Facebook Twitter



State lawmakers will begin tackling the divisive question of how much Utah land Congress should designate as protected wilderness when they meet in a special session in September, officials said.

Gov. Norm Bangerter and Republican leaders said Wednesday they want to use the session, called primarily to deal with tax issues, to establish a bipartisan committee that will eventually decide what the state's position should be on the matter.Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, has introduced a bill in Congress that would set aside an additional 5.1 million acres of the state as protected wilderness. The proposal is opposed by Republicans, and even some Utah Democrats say it goes too far.

"Personally, I think that's too much," said state House Assistant Minority Whip Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley City, when asked about Owens' plan. "There are a lot of people that share my opinion."

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has introduced a separate bill that would protect only 1.4 million additional acres, a plan some say does not go far enough.

Owens said Wednesday he is glad to see the state study the issue, provided the committee truly is bipartisan.

"I would like to be able to provide input as far as suggesting Democrats to be on it," he said.

Owens said he doesn't believe his 5.1-million-acre proposal will survive intact.

"I know we won't get all of that," he said. "I just want to make sure the entire 5.1 million acres will be considered."

The special session, called for Sept. 19, will be used primarily to decide what to do about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively striking down the state's practice of not taxing retired state employees. Lawmakers will also decide whether to cut taxes for all state residents, using what reportedly is a quickly expanding surplus in state funds.

State Democratic leaders urged caution before drastically cutting taxes.

"There are a couple of things the state really needs to do, such as investigate contractors," said House Minority Whip Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake. "That will take at least a couple of million bucks."

Gov. Norm Bangerter and state Republican leaders say they want to extend tax-exempt status to all retirees, both in the private and public sectors. Some Democrats also support that plan.

Pignanelli, however, said he would prefer to tax the state retirees and grant them some other benefits as compensation.

He also questioned why lawmakers are being called to decide on a tax cut in September, rather than wait until the next regular session in January.

"We could do this during the regular session, but it probably wouldn't get as much publicity," he said, noting that Republicans had failed to notify him of the special session.