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Strengthen businesses, lawmaker urges

Utah's strong economy is no reason to shift focus away from strengthening business, the president of the Utah Senate told business people Tuesday.

Senate President Lane Beattie said that some have suggested that good economic times may be a time to shift more spending to social issues and programs. He said such a course would be shortsighted."Now is the time to continue to strengthen business. We need to help new and existing businesses," Beattie told a crowd in the State Office Building auditorium for "Business Day at The Legislature." The event was sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

Beattie said he is concerned by the state's low unemployment. Particularly, he is concerned about the shortage of workers in state government. He told of a county government luring away a state attorney with a $20,000 wage increase. He said he was concerned about such intergovernment competition for employees.

With the Legislature more than halfway through its 45-day session, business people questioned Beattie about specific bills. A woman asked about a measure that would curb impact fees on new construction.

Beattie predicted the bill would fail but said that caps on impact fees, particularly for residential construction, should be considered. Beattie also held out little hope for a bill that would compensate businesses affected by I-15 construction.

David Bird, a lobbyist with Parsons, Behle and Latimer and chairman of the chamber's State Legislative Action Committee, identified top business-related issues the chamber is tracking. They include:

- I-15 construction. Businesses should watch how the Legislature decides to come up with $231 million still needed above last year's road appropriation to the fund the $1.83 billion freeway project, Bird said.

- Health-care mandates. Bird said that a bundle of bills ranging from requiring health plans to cover various forms of contraceptives to a bill increasing the number of visits to dermatologists were all of interest to businesses providing health coverage to employees.

The chamber formally opposed HB38, which would have required equal footing for medical benefits and mental health benefits. The bill failed in committee Monday.

- Guns at work. Bird said businesses should watch closely measures dealing with concealed weapons.

"The position is very simple. The chamber does not support any bill that does not protect employers' right to prohibit employees from carrying a concealed weapon in the workplace."

- Research and development tax credit. The chamber and other business groups have supported a 6 percent research and development tax credit. The bill, SB47, passed a Senate committee last week. Supporters have said the bill could help attract new business and help existing high-tech industries and Utah's three research universities.

- Pollution control equipment sales-tax exemption. Bird said a law giving a sales-tax exemption to businesses on purchases of pollution control equipment required to meet federal and state pollution standards is up for renewal this year. Businesses want to keep the exemption.

- Property taxes. Bird said businesses should watch closely attempts to restructure property tax. Business groups including the Salt Lake Chamber and National Federal of Independent Business have opposed one measure, SJR1, which would remove all references to property taxes from the state constitution.

"In an election year the Legislature will not allow any shift to residential property taxes. The property tax shift will likely mean increases to commercial and business properties," Bird said.

The Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce has identified some 60 business-related bills it is monitoring. Along the with tax credit bill, the chamber has thrown its support behind other bills including SB88, which would require state agencies to consider the fiscal impact any rule change would have on businesses.