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Derek Miller: Utah's growth requires smart policy

Skyline of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.
Skyline of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

As we prepare to begin one of the most substantive legislative sessions in recent memory, a line from Thomas Edison rings true: “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” Utah has enjoyed years of good fortune thanks to a thriving economy, engaged business community, high quality of life and effective state and local government. Of course, it is not simply good fortune keeping Utah at the top; careful planning and good policy have encouraged smart growth and will continue to shape our state’s future for years to come. At the same time, we know our state’s rapid growth will bring with it increasingly complex challenges.

For this reason, the Salt Lake Chamber has focused our 2019 legislative agenda around addressing Utah’s growth. Now is the time to ensure our state’s good fortune continues by maximizing opportunity with thoughtful planning. We call upon lawmakers to think holistically about the way we grow and work to enact policies that acknowledge the interconnection between policy issues. Our six areas of focus draw attention to this less siloed approach.

First, reinforcing Utah’s strong business climate. This is the year to act on tax reform. The Salt Lake Chamber remains supportive of updating our tax code to broaden the base and lower the rate. We also believe the larger tax reform discussion cannot happen without also examining the sales tax distribution formula. Utah’s economy is drastically different than when this formula was adopted over 30 years ago. With a shrinking sales tax base and a growing service economy, it is time that we look at what consumable services the state should collect sales tax from and how this tax revenue can be equitably distributed to municipalities, without harming current sales tax revenues, to encourage smart planning. From a business standpoint, a distribution formula that meets today’s needs and considers issues related to regional and statewide growth is paramount.

Second, with a strong business climate and modern tax structure comes the need for Utah to develop an educated workforce. By supporting programs like Talent Ready Utah, the public and private sector can create partnerships that build our workforce and address immediate employer needs. With every industry relying on technology, computer science in every Utah classrooms is a critically important tool to ensure our state has a trained workforce to meet these short- and long-term demands.

Addressing our state’s housing affordability problem is our third focus area. Workforce training and filling jobs is important, but only if employees are able to afford to live in or near the communities where they work. Utah has a housing shortage that will only compound without solutions on an individual, local and state level. The Chamber supports providing technical support to cities to connect transportation and land use; educating Utahns about the need for smart growth; incentivizing transit-oriented and other mixed-use developments, and advancing reforms to Utah’s referendum law that provides clarity for residents, cities and developers.

The fourth area of focus is transportation. The Salt Lake Chamber has long been a champion for Utah’s multimodal transportation system. It is significant to our economy and a critical piece of solving our housing affordability challenge. We support users bearing the primary responsibility for funding Utah’s transportation infrastructure. Proactive planning surrounding future funding approaches, such as the road user charge, are important steps to ensuring our multimodal system can keep up with population growth.

Fifth, natural resources. Growth inevitably brings with it concerns about Utah’s water supply and air quality. The Chamber supports secondary water metering as a way to educate residents about their water use and encourage conservation. Air quality is a paramount concern, and we believe enforcement of no-burning on red air days and funding for wood burning change-outs can go a long way to reducing winter time emissions.

Finally, health care. Utah’s employers are the largest health care purchaser in the state and nation. For this reason, it is critical employers play a more prominent role in the future of our state’s health care system and have more flexibility, transparency and control in costs, particularly as it relates to prescriptions drugs.

When viewing through the lens of growth, it’s easy to see how each of these issues are interconnected and why they are top priorities for the Salt Lake Chamber. Over the next 45 days, Utah’s business community stands ready to collaborate with the Legislature to combine opportunity with smart planning and advance growth-minded policies that will set our state on a path of enduring good fortune.