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Panel delays action on loans to firms hurt by I-15 project

Gordon Acker isn't selling enough sandwiches at his Schlotzsky's deli on 5300 South just off the I-15 exit.

His business is down 25 percent since freeway reconstruction started, even though the 5300 South freeway exit ramps haven't closed.He'd like the opportunity to borrow low-interest loans from the state, and thinks that's only fair considering what lawmakers have done to help big businesses come to Utah and flourish.

But Wednesday a House committee, dominated by Republicans, put off a decision on the freeway reconstruction loan bill of Rep. Steve Barth, D-Salt Lake, with several members saying they had real concerns with Barth's effort.

The real problem with Barth's bill may be that he's a Democratic House leader, and Democrats have pounded Republicans over I-15 construction for months.

Democrats have held several public hearings about problems of the massive $1.8 billion freeway reconstruction project. And Barth's is only one of several Democratic bills aimed at helping businesses harmed by freeway work.

Barth's bill didn't get a great reception by Republicans on the committee.

"We impacted a number of businesses" when I-80 and other freeways were built around small towns in rural Utah, said Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-East Millcreek. Should all those failing or failed businesses get a chance at loans as well? he asked.

No, said Barth. The I-15 reconstruction will last only four years. Routing a freeway around the main street of a small town lasts forever. Help should be temporary, with the loans paid back after I-15 is finished, he said.

Barth would take $5 million from the state's $70 million-plus rainy day fund for the loans and set up a special three-person board to recommend specific loans to the state Finance Division.