The Utah Transit Authority has a proposal that ought to be a politician's dream. It would allow the authority to expand the enormously popular TRAX light-rail system without costing taxpayers a cent.

The last thing lawmakers should do is hold such a plan hostage to concerns about the salaries of UTA Director John Inglish and other top executives.

And yet, some members of the Legislature, including the House Speaker, said last week they think the agency is deliberately dragging its feet when it comes to providing salary information. Some have hinted at retaliation, which may include voting against items UTA would like during the current legislative session.

One of those items is a complicated sale and lease-back program that could provide tens of millions of dollars to the transit agency. In simple terms, UTA would sell all of its trains to an outside investor, with the stipulation that UTA would continue to operate and control them. The investor then would lease the trains back to UTA. The difference between the agency's lease payments and the amount of cash generated by the sale would provide UTA with plenty of cash.

Under one scenario officials have presented, UTA would sell its trains for $200 million and end up with $16 million in cash. It could use that money to get an additional $24 million from the federal government (the feds generally provide grants that are matched by 40 percent from the local transit agency).

The investor would benefit because he or she would be able to claim depreciation on the trains as a tax shield. Many transit agencies nationwide use similar plans to turn their stock into cash.

However, the plan works only if the trains remain tax exempt throughout the entire process. Currently, UTA is exempted from having to pay property taxes on them. A private investor, however, would not be exempt.

This may be a minor technicality, but it would necessitate a change to the state's constitution. That's why UTA needs help from lawmakers. If two-thirds of them approve such a change, voters would get a chance to approve it on next November's ballot.

Make no mistake, the state has a right to learn the salaries of top UTA executives and to question them. Every Utahn should have a right to that information. UTA is not a state agency, but it is public. Its board is appointed by publicly elected governments and it was created and given taxing authority by the Legislature.

But salaries and the plan to sell and lease back trains should be kept separate. Light rail remains extremely popular more than two years after its debut. Many cities in Salt Lake County and elsewhere are clamoring for it to expand. Why would sate lawmakers want to stand in the way of a way to do so painlessly?