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This should be the top priority for Utah’s Legislature

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As each Utah legislative session proceeds, a theme seems to emerge, whether intended or not. I hope the theme of the session that starts next Monday will be, “Investing in Utah’s future.”

Nothing is more important than preparing for, and investing in, the rapid growth that is occurring in Utah.

Investing in Utah’s future doesn’t just mean spending more money, although money is an important component. It also means putting the policies in place that will help Utah grow in such a way that preserves our enviable quality of life. Growth is inevitable, but we must plan for it and invest in it so that it doesn’t overload our highways and infrastructure, pollute our air and overwhelm our schools. We must plan for growth that produces good jobs that support a family.

That’s a lot to ask of Utah’s 104 lawmakers. But I believe Gov. Gary Herbert and current legislative leaders, to their credit, are focused on the future and want to establish policies and make investments to ensure Utah’s continued prosperity.

Here are some issues and topics worthy of legislative priority. 

Education salaries

We need education investment that pays for more than just student growth and inflation. I hope lawmakers will carefully consider the Envision Utah study that makes a strong case to substantially boost teacher salaries. Great teachers make all the difference. Elevating the teaching profession by paying professional wages would be the single most important step toward excellent education that prepares our young people for the jobs of the future.

Clean air initiatives

Gov. Herbert recommended a bold investment of $100 million to improve air quality. It is needed to begin implementing the recommendations in the air quality study produced by the Gardner Policy Institute at the request of the Legislature. Utah is making good progress on air quality, but greater effort is required. Given our inversion-creating topography, we must reduce emissions more than almost any place in the country to have consistently clean air.

Homeless progress

The three new homeless resource centers are helping hundreds of people deal with the root causes of homelessness. But a legislative appropriation is needed to help pay the cost of building the centers. And more specialists are needed as people are diverted into programs dealing with housing, job training, mental health, physical health and addiction.

Low income housing

One symptom of Utah’s population growth and strong economy is a housing crisis, especially for low-income families. Sen. Jake Anderegg, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, has become a strong advocate for sensible, cost-effective approaches to help resolve the housing crisis in Utah. His proposed legislation would make a positive impact. 

Job creation in rural Utah

A variety of proposals will be made to improve the economies of rural Utah. Investment is needed there, especially because spreading out Utah’s population will help relieve congestion and housing shortages on the Wasatch Front. We need to help rural Utahns take part in Utah’s prosperity.

Mobility and public transit

Gov. Herbert’s budget broke new ground by proposing a $34 million investment to begin double-tracking the FrontRunner commuter rail system. This will help relieve freeway congestion. But we also badly need better public transit into our canyons. We are loving them to death. We also need more transit in underserved areas on both the east and west sides of the Wasatch Front.

Most of these suggestions require additional funding. I recognize that funding resources are limited and, while many projects are worthy, everything can’t be funded. But it’s also important to remember that Utah taxes are relatively low — lower now than in many years. Investments in education, clean air and infrastructure will produce good jobs and preserve Utah’s strong economy.