What issues are most important to Salt Lake City voters? Air quality and homelessness top the list

Salt Lake City Hall

Whoever wins the Salt Lake City mayorship in Tuesday’s election — Erin Mendenhall or Luz Escamilla — she will have a lot of issues on her plate come January.

UtahPolicy.com and its pollster, Y2 Analytics, asked city votes their opinions on 14 major issues the city government will face over the next four years.

And the results are telling.

20191104 QISSUES

For example:

— As some observers may have guessed, the question of the controversial inland port is NOT as important as activists believe.

In fact, of the 14 issues, only “westside development” got lower scores on how important the issue is than did the inland port — which is a planned huge development on vacant land west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

— City voters believe air quality is the most important issue facing the local government. But the mayor and city council, actually, can do little by themselves on air quality, since it is the whole Wasatch Front that must deal with this dirty air, both in winter inversions and summer smog.

— Homeless and education are the next top two issues for voters. The state, city and county have made homelessness — which is most often seen in the city — a top issue and spent combined millions of dollars on helping the unfortunate, including building four new homeless shelters/resource centers.

It is hard to believe much more could be done, although it is a concern that already the new women’s facility is at capacity.

And education, at least in governance, is not a city issue. The Salt Lake City School District levies property taxes for its schools and has its own elected board. The city doesn’t directly deal with education, with the Legislature providing governing laws and funding, as well.

— Affordable housing and crime/drugs also come in high on voters’ concerns, and the city does have a major role to play in those areas.

The city police, of course, fight crime. But the county attorney prosecutes major crimes (the city attorney does handle minor misdemeanors). The courts are run by the state, and the Legislature sets major crimes penalties.

The county and state mostly deal with drug offenders, although the city does contain a number of drug rehabilitation operations.

— One thing city voters are not very concerned about, the extensive survey finds, is the level of taxes.

The city operates mainly on a property tax and the local option sales tax.

The current tax reform that’s being undertaken by Republicans in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert won’t directly deal with the property tax, and while the state sales tax will be changed some, by and large the local option sales taxes will not be much affected.

— A further dive into the demographics of the inland port response finds it is, to some extent, a partisan issue.

That’s because the GOP-controlled Legislature is imposing the port on the citizens of the city, which is solely represented by Democratic state House and Senate members — who oppose the port for the most part.

Thus, the port has been set up as Republicans vs. Democrats, or state vs. city, with the state run by Republicans and the city run by Democrats.

According, Y2 finds that 44 percent “strong” Republicans in the city say the inland port is “extremely” or “very” important, with 33 percent saying “somewhat” important and 23 percent saying the port is “not very” or “not at all” important.

But 62 percent of “strong” Democrats say the inland port is “extremely” or “very” important, a difference of 18 percentage points.

Independents fall in between.

Development of the mostly-vacant, large northwest quadrant of the city has moved rather slowing over the last 50 years.

But the GOP-controlled Legislature decided to build the new state prison out there, over the objections of city leaders.

And now comes the inland port, also forced on the city by Republican state leaders.

Local governments are a creation of the state, and the state doesn’t have to follow local zoning ordinances when it sites state facilities inside local jurisdictions — although it usually does so voluntarily.

In any case, the inland port is the second time in recent years the state Legislature and governor have forced their will on reluctant city leaders.