Ralph Becker was well-rested and in good spirits Thursday, a day after the Utah Legislature wrapped up its 2008 general session.
Salt Lake City's domestic partnership registry remained substantively intact following legislative scrutiny, a funding source was identified for a light-rail line to the airport, and Becker was able to get to bed at a decent hour Wednesday night.
It was a welcome change for Becker, Salt Lake City's first-year mayor who had spent the previous 11 years in the state House of Representatives.
Overall, it was a positive legislative session for Salt Lake City, Becker said, one in which the city was able to "lay the groundwork for future sessions and to build trust with the Legislature."
In many ways, he said, his new role is a continuation of his time on the Hill. Becker's relationships with lawmakers, particularly those in leadership positions, earned city officials an audience willing to listen and negotiate on issues important to Salt Lake City and its residents, the mayor said.
Two pieces of legislation in particular one dealing with the city's ability to create a domestic partnership registry and the other filling the funding gap for the airport TRAX line were the result of legislators being willing to sit down with Salt Lake City officials and take into consideration their concerns, Becker said.
"There is little doubt in my mind that had we not had the ability to have good conversations up there, we would have been big-time losers on those two bills," he said. "The city would have suffered, and in the case of light rail, the whole region would have suffered."
Salt Lake City didn't escape the session completely unscathed. The city's domestic partnership registry will need a new name, as some legislators felt the term, at least in spirit, violated Utah's constitutional Amendment No. 3, which bans same-sex marriage and substantially similar civil unions.
Becker already is referring to the city-run mechanism by which employers can extend heath care and other benefits to adult designees of their employees as "the registry." (He also jokingly referred to it as "the registry formerly known as the domestic partnership registry," uttering the disputed term in a barely audible whisper.)
And then there's the legislative effort to equalize capital funding for schools that resulted in the Salt Lake City, Murray and Granite school districts being forced to help pay for the financial consequences of the Jordan School District split.
Still, Becker and City Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love agree that Salt Lake City fared better in this year's legislative session than it has in recent years.
The bias that Becker said is historically attached to the capital city remained, though this year's session didn't feature any of the personal animosity that has been aimed at Salt Lake City in the past, the mayor said.
"While we had policy differences that reflect some difference in Salt Lake City from a lot of the rest of the state, I didn't feel like it was directed in a vindictive way toward Salt Lake City," Becker said.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, agreed, saying the improved relations had a lot to do with Becker having been a former colleague with strong relationships among legislators.
It also helped that Becker is a much less polarizing figure than Salt Lake City's previous mayor, Rocky Anderson.
"The past mayor had been a lightning rod of controversy," Hughes said. "He not only received it, but he welcomed it. With Mayor Becker, he understands our process."
As the progressive center of a mostly conservative state, Salt Lake City often is at odds with the majority of the Legislature, and Hughes said he expects that to continue. The difference now, he said, is that divisions between the capital city and the rest of the state are issue-based.
"I think some of the demagoguery and personalities won't take the front seat like it has in the past," Hughes said.
Senate Minority Whip Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said tension was lower this year because Becker is new to the Salt Lake City post.
"I think there's a bit of a honeymoon," Davis said.
Love, now in her second term on the Salt Lake City Council, praised Becker for his diplomacy, not only in working with the Legislature but also with the council.
"This was the most collaborative it's been since I've been on the City Council," she said.
There were years when the council and Mayor Anderson couldn't even agree on a legislative agenda, Love said. This year, the mayor's and council's agendas were one and the same.
"It really felt like we as a city were one team this year," she said.
Ben McAdams, Becker's senior adviser for intergovernmental affairs, said he believes this legislative session will go a long way toward an improved relationship between the Legislature and Salt Lake City."I hope we've shown to legislators that while we may have some differences, we are also a capital city they can be proud of and take ownership of as well," McAdams said.
Legislative report card
Here's how Salt Lake City fared on key issues of the 2008 legislative session:
* What it does: The final version of the bill allows Salt Lake City to create a domestic partnership registry, a mechanism by which employers can voluntarily extend heath care and other benefits to adult designees of their employees. However, the legislation requires the registry to shed the "domestic partnership" part of its title.
* Salt Lake's take: City leaders say the legislation isn't necessary. However, it allows the registry to remain substantively intact, so they're OK with it.
* Grade: C
* What it does: At first this was a bill removing Salt Lake City leaders' ability to use airport fees to fund the $35 million portion on airport property of a planned light-rail line to the airport. A late addition to the bill provided Salt Lake City with a way to offset those costs.
* Salt Lake's take: "The Legislature decided they don't want Salt Lake City to use airport revenues, which I think is way beyond the pale of what they should be inserting themselves into," Mayor Ralph Becker said. "In the end, they provided for us an alternative that covers at least part of the cost."
* Grade: B
* What it does: The so-called equalization bill requires Salt Lake City, Murray and Granite school districts to pool their tax dollars to give $12.2 million to the portion of the Jordan School District left behind after east-side cities split away. Salt Lake City was hit with a $6 million bill, which will result in a property tax increase.
* Salt Lake's take: "It's important to Salt Lake City leaders that we get the message out to our taxpayers that this is a tax imposed on our citizens by the Legislature to address the Jordan district split," said Jill Remington Love, City Council chairwoman. "It's going to be a tax increase to our property owners, and the money is not going to stay in Salt Lake City; it's going to Jordan."* Grade: F
E-mail: [email protected]