A day after the Utah State Legislature finished beating up on their city, Salt Lake City Council members said Utah's capital needs to rethink its legislative strategy.
Part of that retooling may be cutting the $50,000 the city spent on its legislative lobbyist, establishing fewer legislative priorities and giving Salt Lake City a new face one that doesn't look like outspoken Mayor Rocky Anderson.
"There's a different face to Salt Lake City than just Rocky," council member Eric Jergensen said. "There has to be a different face put on these legislative issues."
But Jergensen and other council members noted quickly that Salt Lake City's legislative problems aren't all Anderson's fault. Instead, the fact that Salt Lake City has no Republican lawmakers at the Capitol Hill and that Salt Lake City hasn't witnessed as much population growth as the rest of the state are major factors.
"It would be simplistic to say it was an anti-Rocky session," councilman Dave Buhler said. "I don't think anybody was out to get Salt Lake City or anybody took retribution against us."
In previous sessions, the city had largely relied on Deputy City Attorney Steven Allred to handle most of its legislative business.
Allred quit last year, so the city used both Deputy Attorney Lynn Pace and City Attorney Ed Rutan to work at the Legislature. It also spent $50,000 to hire a pair of lobbyists Craig Peterson and Ted Wilson to work on its legislative agenda.
Council members Dave Buhler, a former Republican senator, and Jergensen spent time at the Legislature working on city issues.
At the same time, Anderson was working behind the scenes with the Salt Lake Chamber and others on issues relating to the Salt Palace Convention Center expansion.
Still, all that effort didn't accomplish much.
"Our success was very limited . . . we failed to see that we're very much a minority and we try to push through things that the majority doesn't want to hear," councilman Van Turner said. "When we have our discussion next year, we better get a reality check as to where we stand as a city. I'm not going to be in favor of spending a terrific amount of money with zero result."
Turner said the city needs to have less of a "shotgun" legislative agenda and instead needs to focus in on a few key issues. This year, Turner said, the city invested more resources than it ever had at the Legislature and received one of its worst results.
"This has been a huge effort we put into this," he said.
In November, the mayor rolled out a 10-item legislative agenda he wanted to pursue at the 2005 session. That agenda didn't fair fare too well.
Depending on your perspective, the agenda went either 1-for-10 or 0-for-10, with one agenda item passing but not before it was amended and left with almost meaningless language.
And other city priorities not included in Anderson's agenda list didn't fair fare well, either.
For starters, legislators revoked the city's ability to use Redevelopment Agency funds to purchase land for a new Real Salt Lake soccer stadium. Next, state lawmakers saddled Salt Lake City with a bigger Salt Palace Convention Center expansion bill than city leaders wanted. Legislators declined a hike in tire recycling fees that would have facilitated the move of a tire recycling plant on Redwood Road and also balked at a resolution that would' have urged congressional funding to help get Union Pacific trains off the 900 South rail line.
Much was made this session of lawmakers' disdain for Anderson. Many conservative lawmakers went out of their way to poke fun at Salt Lake City's liberal mayor, who has labeled some legislators "extremist Republicans."
Anderson had pitched his 10 priorities to the Salt Lake County Council of Governments and the City Council. Among those bodies he found support for a few of his agenda items, but among state lawmakers he received less.
Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, a self-described liberal who supports many of Anderson's social causes, says the mayor's aggressive style ends up undermining many of the issues he supports.
"He teaches with a two-by-four between the eyes and it doesn't work," she said. Instead of being so outspoken, the mayor should use a softer style that helps educate others about his issues, she said.
"It would be terrible for him to go out after two terms and only be a legend in his own mind and not have really accomplished anything," Saxton said.
Of all the hits they took at the Legislature, city leaders say the two that hurt worst were a bill that will force them to pay upward of $10 million for Salt Palace expansion funding and one that forbids them from using Redevelopment Agency dollars for a Major League Soccer stadium near downtown.Comment on this story
City leaders said they couldn't have imagined paying $10 million for the Salt Palace when the session began. At one point, city leaders were going to be on the hook for $19 million, but they think they can work with Salt Lake County leaders to reduce that figure.
The soccer stadium hurt as well because Anderson and others considered it a key component to revitalizing the city's southern downtown area. Anderson said Salt Lake City is a traditional target for state lawmakers and this year was no different."There were some upsides and downsides which is not at all unusual," he said. "Salt Lake City actually has always seemed to be in the sights of the Utah Legislature in one way or another."