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Buhler, Becker focus on west-side issues

Both favor putting TRAX airport line on 400 West

West-side residents had the full attention of Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler Tuesday night, and they want that to continue when one of those candidates becomes mayor of Salt Lake City.

Community councils on the city's west side hosted the two candidates for mayor for a west-side-specific debate at the Utah State Fairpark. It was the second debate of the day for Buhler and Becker, who earlier addressed the Salt Lake Rotary Club.

The two are getting so well acquainted, Becker joked Tuesday night, that they each could wear a mask of the other for Halloween and flawlessly recite the other's campaign speeches.

And as west-side residents found out, the candidates share similar views on many of the issues facing the city's west side, including the airport TRAX line.

West-siders applauded both candidates when they said they favor rebuilding the North Temple viaduct to accommodate a light-rail line to the airport, using the 400 West alignment, not 600 West.

Residents worry that changing the proposed alignment to 600 West, as suggested by the Utah Transit Authority and owners of The Gateway shopping mall, would increase crime and traffic and create another barrier between east- and west-side neighborhoods.

Buhler said he's strongly opposed to a 600 West alignment. He said rebuilding and shortening the North Temple viaduct to accommodate the light-rail line is a key to helping attract "the right kinds of businesses to the west side."

"We need to get (the airport TRAX line) built as quickly as possible, and we need to do it the right way, which means on 400 West and a new viaduct on North Temple," he said.

Becker calls the TRAX line an "incredible opportunity for the kind of commercial development and the kind of beautification we want

along North Temple."

"I'm committed to make sure that redevelopment of North Temple, as that TRAX line gets put in, is done in a way that enhances opportunities for better and more housing, more commercial opportunities that serve the neighborhood (and) better transit service coming into that line to really give everyone a much better opportunity to enjoy this fine and rare area."

Questions about improving public education also came up during both debates. Buhler playfully proposed that one way to do that would be to keep Becker in the state Legislature.

"Most of the funding for our schools comes from the state Legislature, so I would like to suggest that we keep Ralph at the

state Legislature awhile longer," Buhler said during an afternoon debate hosted by the Salt Lake Rotary Club at the Downtown Marriott.

"If (Becker) keeps working at it, he can convince more of his colleagues to support public education more than they are now,"

Buhler said. "So the best thing you can do for public education is vote for me and keep Ralph in the Legislature."

The suggestion was met with laughter from Rotarians and even seemed to amuse Becker, who then turned the tables on Buhler.

"I would invite Dave to go up there to the Legislature, where I've been beating my head against the wall for a number of years on this topic, and carry on the fight," said Becker, Democratic leader in the state House. "As a Republican, you may be able to do better." (Buhler earlier served in the Legislature.)

Improving public education often isn't associated with the city or the office of mayor because it's a separate entity, but both

candidates said there are things the mayor can do to influence public education in the city.

Buhler cited recent efforts in the legislature to equalize school construction funds, action stemming from east-side Salt Lake

County cities wanting to split from the Jordan School District, that would have resulted in an $11.3 million tax hike for Salt Lake

City taxpayers.

"I felt like I was living next door to a couple who was getting divorced and the judge ordered me to pay the alimony," he said.

Buhler said he met with Salt Lake City School District officials in his capacity as a Salt Lake City councilman, as well as with state

legislators to make sure the city's concerns were addressed.

"We got that turned around, at least temporarily," he said. "That's an example where a mayor, using his contacts, using his

understanding of the Legislature, using his relationships for the benefit of our schools can be very important."

In his "blueprint" for improving education, Becker calls for a new full-time position in the mayor's office whose job would be to build partnerships between the city and public education and coordinate work with other entities, such as the business community and state government, to help schools get the resources they need.

"We need to provide opportunities for our kids to succeed," Becker said, "and public education is the best route we provide as a society."


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com