Politics about town: Strong economy and legislative reports

Here’s what I learned hanging out at some recent Salt Lake Chamber and legislative meetings:

  • Job growth in Utah remains remarkably strong, noted Natalie Gochnour, director of the Gardner Policy Institute. She told the Chamber Board of Governors that 57,100 new jobs were created in Utah from July 2017 to July 2018. The 3.9 percent jobs growth rate is more than twice the national average of 1.6 percent, and the highest in the country.
  • Washington County grew by a remarkable 7.2 percent in the last year, but among the big counties Utah County is where the action is, with 6.3 percent job growth in the last year, more than double Salt Lake, Weber and Davis. That fast growth rate is expected to continue because Utah County still has about 230,000 acres left of buildable land supply, while Davis, Weber and Salt Lake are running out of land.
  • Despite the great economy, Gochnour warned the good times can’t last forever. Inflation, trade wars, interest rates, labor and housing shortages, and an overheating economy could slow growth or create a downturn.
  • In other chamber action, the executive committee and board of governors issued a statement supporting medical cannabis treatment, but opposing Proposition 2, which “fails to strike the proper balance and lacks adequate controls.” The statement calls on Utah lawmakers “to quickly put into place a legal framework to allow for timely and responsible medical cannabis treatment, safeguard the public interest, and address potential impacts to the business community, such as banking and insurance regulation and an impaired workforce.”
  • The Legislature’s Transportation & Tax Review Task Force focused recently on the opportunities presented by Public/Private Partnerships (P3s), and also reviewed the crazy-quilt application of local option sales tax increments that mostly fund public transit.
  • UDOT deputy director Teri Newell said P3s are a tool that could be used in the future to accelerate infrastructure projects where state funding might not be available. Jonathan Gifford, director of the Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy at George Mason University, said that even though public financing is usually cheaper than P3 financing, P3s might still make sense if it means a project can be developed earlier, if a public entity wants to transfer risk to concessionaires and financiers, if public borrowing limits are maxed out, and if the higher cost of capital can be offset by innovation and efficiencies.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of P3 proposed to finance and develop Cottonwood Canyons transportation, or perhaps infrastructure at the Point of the Mountain project. State and local funding might not cover the enormous costs of those projects, so private investment could be a possibility.
  • The task force will form a subcommittee to further study how public transit is funded and look at the complexity of the various quarters of sales tax that are currently levied in different political jurisdictions. It is very complicated because of the overlapping cities and counties and the various parts of the sales tax levied for transit and roads. Sen. Wayne Harper said there are eight different options to get to the 4 quarters authorized, with 15 to 20 footnotes on who can impose what and how the money can be used.
  • The task force members were generally sympathetic about the need to simplify and standardize transit funding. However, representatives of cities and counties said all the different levies and complexity exist because different cities and counties have different needs, and some want transit while others want roads. The complexities were built in to provide flexibility and account for local needs.