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Stalemate over a bonding bill is finally broken

Lawmakers say Leavitt likely will approve it

After days of struggling to reach a compromise, state lawmakers finally passed a $65 million bonding bill for new projects — one that Gov. Mike Leavitt has said he will sign.

The decision came just hours before Wednesday's midnight deadline, with legislators finally agreeing in many respects to disagree.

"I just want it to happen," groaned Camille Anthony, director of Administrative Services.

Trouble was, the Senate and the House were at loggerheads over how much the state should borrow and for which building.

Adding tension to the stalemate was the threat of Leavitt's possible veto because he has made clear he does not like "phase funding" projects — where only part of the money is borrowed in the first year, obligating the state to borrow again to finish the work.

Lawmakers also knew Leavitt's own budget proposal included no borrowing for buildings and so anything that managed to get approval in the Legislature had better be conservative.

Early on, the Senate approved the original subcommittee proposal to bond for $63 million to fund 10 projects submitted as priorities by the state building board. The House scaled it back to $42.4 million for only three projects.

To settle the standoff a lot of huddles were held in the hallway between the representatives and senators charged with coming up with a compromise the majority could settle on.

"It's like a porcupine," said Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, one of the few in the Senate who voted against the final compromise.

Some legislators objected to the notion that Utah State University's library would get the lion's share of funding, while other needs across the state had to be dropped from consideration.

"This is the elephant at the top of the list," Rep. Lorraine Pace, R-Logan said, referring to the USU library. Pace chairs the Capital Facilities Appropriations Subcommittee. "Everyone agrees this library is the most dangerous building in the state."

Lawmakers also shifted $4.2 million in cash to the Capitol restoration project after negotiating a convoluted land acquisition that allowed the state to pick up that much in cash from the federal government.

In a separate bonding proposal for transportation, Utah legislators approved legislation that funds a two-year, full-blown environmental impact study for the proposed Legacy Highway in Davis County.

The Legacy study is part of a $78.5 million highway bond to be repaid with proceeds from a portion of the sales tax.

"We took the top four of 10 projects that were ready to go and funded them using the quarter of 1 percent sales tax," said Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.

Those projects are:

Widening Interstate 15 from 10600 South to the Utah County line, eliminating a bottleneck there by adding a lane in each direction.

Rebuilding Interstate 215 from Redwood Road to 4700 south.

Reconstructing State Street from 9000 South to 10600 South.

Widening a rail bridge at State Street and 8000 South to eliminate a bottleneck for UTA light-rail cars.

Contributing: Associated Press