In an address billed as the major economic speech of his governor's race, Democrat Ted Wilson told Salt Lake Realtors on Wednesday that he can turn Utah's economy around quickly and keep it growing.
Wilson, who got a standing ovation from the audience at the end of this speech, announced a three-point plan for economic development:"First, we can't raise your taxes. Second, business growth must come from Utah businesses first. Outside recruitment, while important, follows. Third, we must have short-range and long-range economic strategies. I have those."
Wilson leads Republicans Jon Huntsman and Gov. Norm Bangerter and independent Merrill Cook in the polls. But Wilson told the Realtors he knows he needs Republican votes to win the governor's seat. "Some of you in the audience are Republicans. I can't win without you. I have a little Republican idol at home and I worship before it each morning," he joked.
Wilson said taxes are high enough. "They are discouraging people and harming business growth. (Not raising taxes) is a promise I make to you," he said.
Eighty percent of all new jobs will be created by growing Utah businesses. "We have to place more emphasis on growth at home."
His short-range economic growth package contains several elements. Foremost is tourism. "Tourism is our quick turn-around. We should advertise nationwide, immediately, our new civilized liquor law. We don't go out and apologize for Utah, saying, `We really are kind of weird here.' We're not. We extend our natural hospitality."
Secondly, Wilson would restructure current state bonding and bond more for public works. Such public works, including road work, would help tourism while helping the construction industry, he said.
Thirdly, "the governor should hit the road, travel to the major media markets, call press conferences and talk about Utah and its tourism."
In a long-term economic strategy, Wilson wants to conduct a major "futures study." The study would determine which Utah industries have growth potential over the next several decades and which don't. Strategies for both groups would be developed. "The study may cost $500,000 to $1 million. But that is a small cost compared to its value dissecting Utah's economy for the first time."
He also wants to localize economic development. "Look how good a job Cedar City has done in promoting its Shakespearean Festival and Summer Games. Every community should be doing the same thing."
He'd strengthen what he calls "the circle of prosperity education creating research creating technology creating jobs, which pay for more education." Toward that end, Wilson would set up special "presidents' funds" for college administrators. The funds would be used to pay top-flight professors and researchers more to keep them from leaving Utah.
Finally, Wilson wants "major tax credits" for growing businesses. The businesses would get tax breaks on their incremental growth, thus encouraging such growth, he said.
"We need a clear economic strategy," Wilson said, something the current administration lacks. "I've been tested in the public arena on economic development, and I'm proven."