Are Utah's best ideas coming from outside the House (and Senate)? | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

January 11, 2023 News » Cover Story

Are Utah's best ideas coming from outside the House (and Senate)? 

Get ready for the 2023 Utah Legislature

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DEREK CARLISLE
  • Derek Carlisle

Change is in the air, everywhere—it seems—but at the Utah Legislature.

In Salt Lake City and its environs, thirsty lawns are being replaced with water-wise landscaping; multi-acre McMansions are making way for apartments, condominiums and townhomes; e-bike sales are surging; green power is proliferating; and citizens are increasingly mobilizing to push action on issues from health care reform to economic modernization to the preservation of democracy itself.

How about on Capitol Hill? Only time will tell, but the annual 45-day legislative session that begins next week looks to be more of the same old thing, with lawmakers' priorities so repetitive, a robot could write the preview article for City Weekly. (No really, we had a robot do it! )

In recent years, the voting population made its wishes known on Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana and political redistricting—plus fairly definitive shows of opposition to food taxes and support for liquor deregulation. The Legislature's Republican supermajority dismissed all of the above, preferring to engage in snipe hunts on critical race theory, transgender athletes and ballot fraud, things that exist only in isolated, anecdotal incidents and the fever dreams of far-right conservatives.

On one hand, Utah's population is concentrated in urban and suburban areas along the Wasatch Front. On the other, lawmakers adopted a partisan gerrymander that intentionally dilutes urban political power and that succeeded in making the Utah House a deeper shade of red, with an expanded membership in the unofficial "Crazies Caucus" (they know who they are).

On one hand, legislative leadership used its muscle last year to fund restorative efforts at the Great Salt Lake and to take critical steps toward water efficiency. On the other, those efforts were much too little and far too late, maintaining outsize leniency for agricultural and industrial uses.

On one hand, cities are experimenting with road diets, paved trails and high-frequency transit connections. On the other, the Utah Department of Transportation is sharpening its knives to cut a bigger freeway through west-side neighborhoods and to effectively extend the private ski lifts at Alta and Snowbird to a massive car-parking structure, to be built at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, at taxpayer expense.

In the following pages, you'll find an overview of the debates to come, as well as examples of regular Utahns who see the writing on the wall and are pushing broader conversations around transportation and environmental policy that get louder with each new participant. Who knows, maybe if Utahns get loud enough—about what they really want, about what actually works—their ostensible representatives might just one day hear them up on the north end of Main Street.

—Benjamin Wood, City Weekly news editor

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About The Authors

Katharine Biele

Katharine Biele

Bio:
A City Weekly contributor since 1992, Katharine Biele is the informed voice behind our Hits & Misses column. When not writing, you can catch her working to empower voters and defend democracy alongside the League of Women Voters.
Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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