The other day this page criticized Congress for failing to authorize funds for the Central Utah Project before the lawmakers adjourned.

But there are limits to how much Utahns can complain since the CUP is just one item on a long list of unfinished business left by the departing 101st Congress.Unhappily, there is also a long list of quite another kind - a list of items the lawmakers approved even though they are hard to justify except as favors to a few powerful special interests.

On the final, frenzied day of the 101st Congress, the Senate passed 72 bills and joint resolutions, approved three treaties and confirmed 39 executive branch nominations and hundreds of armed services promotions. The House of Representatives, for its part, passed 39 bills and joint resolutions.

Impressive? Not when compared to some of the items that Congress left unfinished after its two-year session. Among them:

- A bill that would have provided $10 billion to the Resolution Trust Corp. for the savings and loan bail-out. As a result of this congressional lethargy, the RTC's ability to keep the bailout moving through the winter is threatened.

- Campaign finance reform, which was left unfinished despite intense dissatisfaction with the current system.

- A new crime bill, which was passed only after dumping some of its toughest and most significant provisions, including expedited procedures for handling appeals by condemned prisoners.

- A measure to give veterans' benefits a cost-of-living adjustment in fiscal 1991.

- The omnibus education bill that would have authorized programs to reward excellent schools and teachers, fight illiteracy among adults, and improve teacher training.

- The Defense Production Act, which would have renewed authority for the president to guarantee the production of materials deemed essential to national security.

By contrast to such shortcomings, Congress had no trouble finding time to do such favors as these:

- Exempting small wineries from the higher new tax on wine.

- Exempting the makers of large cigars, those weighing more than .04 ounces each, from another key revenue raiser, the higher new taxes on tobacco.

- Exempting small airplanes from the new tax on luxury items.

- Extending a tax break for manufacturers of ethanol, a fuel made from grain, even though taxes on gasoline were increased.

- Providing so many special projects for defense contractors that Chairman Sam Nunn of the Senate Armed Services Committee is threatening to investigate the actions of the lawmakers who insisted on adding them to the defense appropriation bill.

These breaks for special interests were provided even though Congress was under intense pressure to curb spending and avoid favors like the ones in the much-criticized Tax Act of 1986.

The next time this nation's lawmakers wonder why Congress gets so little respect from the public, they can find out simply by reviewing the sorry record of the 101st session.