Business Leaders: Now is the Time to Invest in Both Education and Transportation

Today, Utah’s business community called on the state legislature to seize the opportunity to make investing in Utah’s future economic success a priority. 

Business leaders asked that the Legislature to make a landmark investment in both education and transportation. This call to action is outlined in the Salt Lake Chamber’s updated 2015 Public Policy Guide that was released to the public at a gathering of the Salt Lake Chamber’s executive committee and other key business and community leaders at the Utah State Capitol.

In “The Economic Imperative for Action,” business leaders outlined their support for policymakers to take action this session and focus on the following key principles:

1. Education:Now more than ever, education is the surest path to economic success for an individual and the community. We must make a landmark ongoing investment in our future workforce by investing in education. We ignore clear education warning signs at our peril. We can invest now or pay a dear price later.

2. Transportation:We must continue our commitment to investing in Utah’s transportation system by working to fund the $11.3 billion funding gap identified in Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan. Business leaders expressed that Utah must keep its competitive advantage in transportation and that major investments in the past decade cannot be lost.

3. Tax Climate: We must maintain an attractive tax climate. Addressing today’s critical needs must be met with a concerted effort in the coming years to modernize and improve Utah’s tax structure.

“Business leaders understand that investment requires sacrifice. Today, we stand on the shoulders of forward-thinking leaders who built Utah’s strong and diverse economy,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO, Salt Lake Chamber. “This same opportunity to exhibit lasting economic leadership exists for today’s leaders. And business leaders believe nowhere is this investment more important than in education and transportation.”

The 2015 Public Policy Guide represents the business community’s priorities for the general legislative session and beyond. The guide outlines the Chamber’s position on policy issues including the “Economic Imperative for Action,” business climate, taxes and regulation, economic development, jobs and growth, infrastructure and transportation, and natural resources and environment.

Rich Walje, president and CEO of Gateway Projects, PacifiCorp and policy chair, Salt Lake Chamber said, “There are many issues facing our state. However, today we as a business community are here to focus our support behind what we believe are the two most critical issues facing Utah’s future growth—education and transportation.”

“Business leaders have never been more united and focused on improving education in Utah,” said Alan Hall, managing director, Mercato Partners and chair, Prosperity 2020. “We know that education is the surest path to economic success and Utah must do a better job.”

Referring to Utah’s declining educational attainment, Hall said, “We see advanced warning signs that if not changed will have a lasting negative impact on our economy. Utah students are losing ground nationally and rank poorly among states. In the last two decades, Utah has lost the advantage it once held for being among the most highly educated states in the nation as we have seen our college completion rates dropping. We have to do better.”

Last fall, business leaders released a 5-year plan for education titled “Prosperity through Education – The Innovation, Accountability and Investment Plan for Utah’s Future” at the request of the Legislative Education Interim Task Force.

Referencing the plan, Hall said, “The plan was developed with limited resources in mind and lays out what we believe are strategic investments to get Utah back into the top-10 states for education. It drives innovation, accountability and investment education. Utah’s business leaders believe now is the time to act on this plan and invest in Utah’s future.”

In addition to the investments and reforms outlined for education, business leaders urge action on transportation funding this session. This comes on the heels of a major effort between a group of business and civic leaders working together to increase public awareness about the need to address transportation funding through the Utah Transportation Coalition.

“Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan­—a consensus based plan by our state’s transportation experts, shows that our commitment is faltering and will have a $11.3 billion gap by 2040,” remarks Dave Golden, chair, Utah Transportation Coalition. “Fueling this deficit is a motor-fuel tax that has not been addressed since 1997. This session the Legislature must take action”

“While this is largely in the future, we are facing critical needs today because of the lack of funding. We have crumbling infrastructure in our cities and counties,” says Golden. “This is not just an urban issue, as most of Utah’s rural community’s roads are not being actively maintained, and we have over 500 bridges that must also be replaced in the coming decade.”

Additionally, business leaders called for transportation investments to address Utah’s air quality challenges.

“Mobile emissions contribute almost half of the emissions during an inversion. We must improve transportation options through investing in transit and active transportation to clean our air,” says Golden. “Our partners in cities and counties also want to be a part of the solution and need tools for addressing their local transportation needs.”

The Salt Lake Chamber and Utah Transportation Coalition did not take any formal position on transportation funding, only emphasizing that a compressive approach that addresses the vital needs for state and local roads, as well as transit and active transportation were needed. However, the business leaders did express support for increasing and reforming transportation user fees as innovative ways to regain and preserve purchasing power.

As in past sessions, these priorities have collided on Capitol Hill as business leaders stressed unity and pushed for a concerted effort in the coming years to modernize and improve Utah’s tax structure and fiscal policy.

“We can no longer hide behind clever budgeting to keep robbing from Peter to pay Paul,” said Lane Beattie of the Chamber. “Let me be clear. It is easy to be an advocate for one of theses issues and neglect the others. As Utah’s business leader, the Salt Lake Chamber believes now is the time to invest and to go beyond the politically expedient. We ask that this Legislature exhibit lasting economic leadership and seize this opportunity to invest in Utah’s future economy.”

Other highlights of the 2015 Public Policy Guide included:


This past year the Salt Lake Chamber launched “Utah | Water is You Business” to engage the business community in this critical issue. The 2015 Public Policy Guide highlights and supports the development of a comprehensive state water strategy to identify how to continue the legacy of meeting our long-term water needs, protect our current water resources and make disciplined investments. This includes a thorough discussion with all stakeholders about the advantages and disadvantages of how we pay the future investments in water infrastructure and how best to utilize user fees.

“Water will no doubt be a critical issue discussed this session,” said Beattie. “Already state leaders have begun to discuss a comprehensive water strategy similar to the efforts in Colorado and Wyoming. We look forward to moving that effort forward.”

Air Quality

As the Wasatch Front and other communities in Utah grapple with poor air quality, the 2015 Public Policy Guide calls for initiatives targeted at mobile emissions, enhanced research and public education on air quality, along with incentives to ease regulatory compliance for small business.

“Our air quality continues to be a pressing concern for Utahns’ and our business community,” said Beattie. “This is really an economic development and workforce issue. We all must all do our part and the legislature should make strategic investment and reforms necessary to clean our air.”

Healthy Utah

The Affordable Care Act is currently the law in our country. While we support efforts to improve and repeal pieces of it at the federal level, Utah must deal with the realities of its existence. And while the governor, Utah’s business community and our federal delegation support efforts to amend the law, lawmakers must work within it to benefit the people of Utah. A major flaw in the Affordable Care Act has placed Utah in the position to make a monumental choice regarding Medicaid expansion. The 2015 Public Policy Guide highlights and supports the Governor’s Healthy Utah proposal as an alternative to Medicaid expansion that recognizes the necessity of balancing the financial resources of the state with the needs of Utahns.

“The Utah Legislature should carefully consider and if necessary, improve Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah proposal,” said Beattie. “It is the fiscally responsible thing to do and our community is stronger when we provide access to health coverage for the poorest among us.”

2015 Public Policy Guide: