Utah legislators and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. got through the last 45 days of general session mostly unbruised.

It's amazing what the salve of money can do.

Sometimes you just have to wonder at those who have luck — if that's the right term for Huntsman.

Bright, articulate, good looking, a Republican in a very Republican state, Huntsman runs for office his first time, wins and gets sworn in as state budgeters estimate a half a billion extra in tax revenue.

Pretty good, huh?

But wait, there's a squabble between the new boss and old-time workers — the GOP legislators — over how much road money to spend.

And what happens?

Bingo, new revenue estimates find $100 million more.

Does this guy have the golden touch or what?

Huntsman's main worry now — if indeed he has even one — would be that things can only go downhill after such a start for his new administration.

Huntsman carries around in his shirt pocket a laminated list of his main goals, pulling them out as he tells people over and over again that he's going to keep working on what's important.

(I asked him in a recent interview if his card really is a priority list or a grocery list. He offered to show it to me, but some things are best at arm's length.)

He says he used the list as he negotiated privately with legislative Republicans and Democrats on his top priorities during the past 6 1/2 weeks.

While former GOP Govs. Mike Leavitt and Olene Walker at times during legislative sessions would hold formal press conferences or give press interviews where they instructed legislators to toe the line on this or that gubernatorial spending priority, Huntsman stayed in the background.

He wasn't missing. He was still out and about at public events.

But he didn't criticize legislators at them.

At one event, he even let legislative leaders speak first before he made a few remarks and then left before reporters could get to him to ask about legislative issues.

At two KUED Channel 7 normally scheduled press conferences, Huntsman was likewise circumspect — "we're working together . . . things are OK" — those kinds of public comments.

In private, we're told (and we have to assume, since we weren't there), Huntsman was equally gentle.

Senate President John Valentine says Huntsman was straightforward.

House Speaker Greg Curtis said he didn't play any games, told them what he wanted and what he would accept.

"He said he'd only settle for a 4.5 percent increase" in the Weighted Pupil Unit, said Curtis. The WPU is the basic public education funding formula, and the GOP House caucus had taken a position to keep it at a 3.5 percent increase — a position they came off of after the new $100 million in revenue estimates came in.

Huntsman got his 4.5 percent WPU hike.

Anyway, there are always a few surprises each session.

And I figured that some kind of tuition tax credit bill would pass this year. The big anti-tax-credit stick was always Leavitt and then, last year, Walker, two governors who didn't want them.

Huntsman favors tax credits.

But in the end, who knows how hard he really pushed for tax credits? Or did he decide to sit that fight out and let a new Legislature take that one alone this year?

I also thought Huntsman would get his phased-in repeal of the 5 percent corporate income tax. He didn't.

A Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll showed that 62 percent of Utahns opposed phasing out the tax — a repeal that by 2012 would be costing Utah public schools more than $200 million a year.

The House, with 21 Republicans joining with 19 Democrats, took the phase-out out of a bill Huntsman favored. And while the Senate passed its own version of the repeal, it was never again debated in the House.

Maybe Huntsman figured that he'd gotten by far most of what he wanted out of the 2005 Legislature.

Maybe he decided not to push that amazing run of luck he's seen the last year.

Maybe he would take a year, throw the corporate tax repeal in with a huge tax reform task force and give more time to "educate" Utahns on how wise it is to give such an economic development "tool."

The 2005 Legislature was a success for Valentine, Curtis and other lawmakers, in part because of all the new money that flowed into it.

And while he was not very visible during the session itself, my guess is that now Huntsman will be seen more and more — and taking some of the credit for the success of the past 45 days.


Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com