City keeps tabs on legislative session
February 20, 2015
The Utah legislative session is more than halfway done and "first and foremost, it’s kind of been what we have expected," Park City Assistant Manager Matt Dias told The Park Record Thursday.
"It’s been very, very active. It’s not an election year, so we were anticipating sort of a very robust, very active legislative session," he said.
Transportation is one of the main issues the City is keeping an eye on. In late November, Park City joined the Utah Transportation Coalition, a group made up of cities and towns, counties, chambers of commerce, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Transit Authority. Part of the coalition’s mission is to "secure adequate, stable and long term funding" for transportation in the state.
"We’re an active member," Dias said. "We were one of the first municipalities to join."
There are various transportation-funding initiatives being discussed by lawmakers and one of the most notable is a proposal to raise the tax on gasoline by 10 cents per gallon, from 24 ½ cents per gallon to 34 ½ cents per gallon. Its sponsor is Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, whose District 26 includes Park City.
"I think it’s too early to say that there’s one proposal that our City Council prefers," Dias said. He allowed that he is fond of the simplicity of Van Tassell’s proposal, however.
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"The nice part of it is it’s a fairly elegant solution — it’s straightforward. It deals with the imposition and the distribution. There’s always kind of two questions: the imposition, who’s going to impose it, and then the distribution, how is it going to be distributed. And his solution is fairly straightforward," Dias said.
"The other solution in the House [a sales-tax hike] is a little more complicated, which is some money going to counties, some money going to cities and towns and some money going to transit, not really sure about who’s going to impose it. So Sen. Van Tassell’s piece meets those two questions just head on… whereas the House proposal, it’s a little murky."
According to Van Tassell, his bill (S.B. 160) could bring $60 million in new revenues which would be used for maintenance and repair of Class 2 roads and bridge repairs. Maintenance of rural roads in particular, he says, has been underfunded for years.
The bill received a unanimous favorable recommendation from the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee, but its passage is far from certain.
"I still believe we will accomplish something this year I don’t think it will look like Sen. Van Tassell’s bill. But something will happen," House Transportation Committee Chairman Johnny Anderson (R – Taylorsville) told The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday.
Dias said he has regularly been exchanging emails with both Van Tassell and Park City’s representative in the House, Kraig Powell (R – Heber), during this legislative session.
"We’re really lucky," he said. "They’re incredibly responsive to us."
Powell is backing a bill, as he did a year ago, to do away with the separate-dispensing-area wall requirement for new restaurants (dubbed, the "Zion curtain"). The City is "thankful," Dias said.
"We’re just generally supportive of that premise of local control," he said. "So generally speaking we would support our bars and restaurants and food service industry in saying, look when people come here as a tourist, we’re trying to get them on Main Street, we’re trying to get them to experience the culture here and dining is an essential component to the brand that we have."
The City has a strong "legislative apparatus," Dias said, that allows it to stay involved in goings-on at the Capitol.
"I may be the liaison and I may spend a couple days down there a week, but the mayor and the City Manager Diane Foster, and the Council members have great relationships."
A key to the City’s relationships with lawmakers is "because we generate so much economic activity in the State of Utah," he said.
Dias is in his second year working for Park City, but he has considerable experience in national and regional U.S. politics.
"I spent the better part of a decade in Washington, D.C. working in Congress," he said. "After that I worked for a large city in the Boston area and I had the same role, I was sort of a liaison for the legislative delegation and the legislative session in Massachusetts with the statehouse."
He said he strives to be conservative in his expectations of what lawmakers will do.
"Never make any predictions, always be modest, always be conservative," he said. "Kinda like Murphy’s law is what I say… assume the worst, hope for the best, plan for the worst, hope for the best."
Dias said the City closely watches land-use issues but that he hasn’t yet seen any bills that would have much of an impact in Park City.
"No big surprises yet, and knock on wood, I say that with bated breath," Dias said of the session in general.
The Utah Legislative session ends March 12.
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