Salt Lake City Council members asked their state lawmakers today to try to halt any attempts by the Legislature to punish the city because of Mayor Rocky Anderson's opposition to the Legacy Highway.
Even if council members are divided about the importance of Legacy Highway, they have all agreed that Anderson's decision to join the lawsuit against the road was wrong, outgoing Council Chairman Roger Thompson said.
"We all felt that because the suit was going ahead anyway, involving Salt Lake City would do more harm than good," Thompson said. "We thought Rocky's decision was unnecessary."
Along with Thompson, incoming and current council members spent two hours discussing the upcoming legislative session with four Salt Lake lawmakers. While they touched on a number of other subjects, such as annexations, homeless shelters and taxes, the council's main concern was threatened repercussions from the Legacy lawsuit.
That lawsuit, which is pending in the 10th District Court of Appeals in Denver, was filed during last year's legislative session by Anderson, environmental groups and mass-transit advocates. A court injunction granted in the case halted construction on the four-lane, $451 million Legacy Highway.
Cost estimates for the delays have run as high as $92,500 per day, money that some legislators have suggested should be covered by reducing the funding for Salt Lake road projects and mass transit.
House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City, said that even during the previous session, he heard some grumbling from Republican legislators about Anderson's support, but they couldn't find many ways to punish the city. This year, despite the threats, he doubted that any attempts to reduce funding for mass transit, especially commuter rail from Davis County and further expansion of the TRAX system, would work.
Salt Lake's lone Republican lawmaker, Rep. Afton Bradshaw, did not attend today's meeting.
Councilwoman Nancy Saxton suggested that the funding cuts would affect Salt Lake City, even if the TRAX funding was not cut. If the overall Utah Transit Authority budget were cut, it would hit the bus system the hardest.
"When we talk about mass transit, we think about TRAX," Saxton said. "But if there are budget cuts, it will come from Salt Lake City."
Thompson feared that even if Anderson's opposition to the highway did not bring any significant repercussions, it would not help the city's standing with state leaders.
"We have not had a great reputation at the Legislature, and this hasn't helped," he said.