As we enter the last few days of the 57th session of the Utah State Legislature, final decisions will be made regarding how to allocate our precious resources including the ultimate disposition of the massive surplus, which tops $1.6 billion.
As former governors and business and community leaders, we recognize the many competing needs placed before the Legislature. We applaud our lawmakers for funding public education, higher education and other crucial state priorities at appropriate levels.
During this time of plenty, it is vitally important to prepare for the future by investing in the basic infrastructure on which a healthy economy and a successful society are built. Republicans and Democrats agree that a core responsibility of government is to provide the transportation and water systems and other infrastructure that will support the rapid growth occurring across our state.
As Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties, along with other parts of the state, boom with population growth, our transportation infrastructure, in particular, is not keeping up. The areas facing the biggest challenge in the next decade will be western Salt Lake County and northern Utah County, where plenty of space exists and where homes and businesses are sprouting up almost overnight.
We agree with the Salt Lake Chamber, which has made transportation infrastructure its No. 1 priority and forecasts a looming transportation crisis unless Utah's leaders take action. Funding must be found for a number of very large highway projects. The chamber estimates that meeting the most critical statewide transportation needs of the next eight years, through 2015, will require additional investment of $5.7 billion. That is $5.7 billion above current funding levels, which is an enormous amount over eight years. Through the year 2030, a $16.5 billion funding gap exists in highways alone.
State legislators are making heroic efforts to fund transportation this year, and we applaud their efforts. We encourage passage of final legislation to fund right-of-way purchase for the Mountain View Corridor and steps to hasten I-15 reconstruction in Utah County. But we are still underfunding transportation infrastructure in the state of Utah. Revenue sources for the billions of dollars in construction costs for those two major projects, plus others around the state, must be found, and tapping future surpluses may not be enough. Among other revenue sources, a fuel tax increase is needed in the future and is appropriate given the dramatically reduced purchasing power of the current tax level.
The cost of inaction is considerably higher than the price of proper investment in highway infrastructure. The measurable costs of congestion including hours of delay, additional vehicle operating costs and accidents will cost roughly twice the amount of dealing with the growth now, in a timely manner. The nonquantifiable costs, such as lost productivity, reduced quality of life, air quality impacts, health impacts and slower economic growth, will take an additional heavy toll on Utahns.
While modest tax cuts may be appropriate while the state enjoys a large surplus, let us not forget that boom times won't last forever. A crucial ingredient to sustain economic expansion is providing adequate infrastructure so our families and businesses can flourish.
Former Govs. Bangerter, Walker and Rampton write on behalf of the Oquirrh Alliance Executive Committee.