SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's falling unemployment rate shows that the state's balanced approach to illegal immigration is working, and should not be repealed, according to state business leaders.
Salt Lake Chamber president Lane Beattie said the new figures "indicate we don’t have too many employees" in Utah. And in some areas, such as engineering, the state doesn't have enough, Beattie added.
According to figures released Thursday, Utah's December jobless rate dropped 0.4 percent from 6.4 percent in November. The national unemployment rate dropped from 8.6 percent in November to 8.5 percent in December.
Beattie was joined by several business leaders and chamber members Thursday morning to discuss their legislative priorities for the 2012 session, which begins Monday. A top priority was immigration law.
The Utah immigrant guest-worker law, HB116, "should be improved, but must not be repealed," according to the chamber's 2012 Public Policy Guide. "We oppose new legislation that detracts from the Utah solution."
Beattie added that the issue of illegal immigration and waivers for guest workers are ultimately federal issues, which need to be addressed by Congress.
Lawmakers last year passed a package of bills, dubbed the "Utah solution," that created a guest-worker program and tigher enforcement, among other changes. The federal government has sued the state over the enforcement bill, calling it unconstitutional.
Besides honing Utah's approach to immigration, chamber leaders urged civility in public discourse. With the opening of the 2012 Legislature, "We call upon our elected officials to make 2012 a banner year for our state," Beattie said, by making "five big decisions," and among them was "decide to be civil."
Chamber member and president of Summit Group Todd Wolfenbarger added, "We commit ourselves to respectful discourse and behavior toward all people … to make Utah a more welcoming, inclusive and caring community."
Along with Utah leading in immigration reform, other top issues include creating jobs, innovating and investing in education, and for Utahns to more actively engage in government, Beattie said.
The chamber also opposes any increase "in income, sales and property taxes that are not voted on by the public," but called for eliminating the state's 2013 structural budget deficit.
The chamber's plan for education includes evaluation and performance pay for teachers and principals, online courses, $10 million in district-level early intervention funding and ACT exams for eighth-, 10th- and 11th-graders.
"The time has come to increase the level of investment and innovation in education," said Molly Mazzolini, a partner at Infinite Scale, a Salt Lake City design firm. She introduced herself as having three children from kindergarten to college age.
"By the close of this decade, no less than nine out of 10 Utah third and sixth graders must read at grade level and be proficient in mathematics," Mazzolini said.
Chamber leaders also called on more Utahns to participate politically by attending the Democratic and Republican caucus meetings in March that select state and county delegates.
The Salt Lake Chamber is a statewide organization representing 7,700 businesses.