Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
A view of Salt Lake City from KSL Chopper 5.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study reveals that Utahns want their civic leaders to put a lot of effort into addressing the need for quality public schools, as well as cleaning up the state’s increasingly smoggy air.

A statewide survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business indicated that Utahns want the Legislature to tackle public education and air quality as the two most important issues currently facing the state.

The survey ranked the top 20 issues most important to Utahns. Rounding out the top five were protecting states’ rights at No. 3, increasing the number of jobs at No. 4, and improving the ethics and oversight of elected officials at No. 5.

“Public education always receives among the highest, if not the highest, ranking among Utahns as they consider the job that needs to be done by the Utah Legislature,” said Dan Jones, founder and CEO of Dan Jones & Associates. “The newcomer this year is air quality. The public simply wants to see something done to improve Utah’s air.”

The data comes from the inaugural Utah Business Sentiment Survey, which will provide a monthly indicator of business conditions, policy preferences and current issues facing the state, explained Randy Shumway, CEO of The Cicero Group.

This month’s survey focused on the 2014 Legislature, he said.

The survey polled a random group of 1,622 respondents who were asked, “What are the top three legislative priorities for the Utah Legislature to tackle?” The responses were then ranked on a weighted scale.

“Improving the quality of K-12 education is consistently the No. 1 priority of Utahns,” Shumway said.

As the largest budget issue each year, he said respondents acknowledged the importance of providing quality public education to help bolster the state economy long term.

Shumway also noted that recent events have propelled air quality and states’ rights forward in the minds of Utahns.

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business, said the goal of the collaboration effort for the survey was to give civic and business leaders insight into the important issues “on the minds of the public.”

Gochnour said the results of the survey would seem to offer a fair representation of what is important to people around the state. Noting the dominance of education and particularly clean air in the study, she said the data indicate how vital both issues are to a strong state economy as far as residents are concerned.

Gochnour said she was “impressed” by the unified opinion about the importance of public education and the significance of the environment to many Utahns.

“It’s hard to recruit companies or talented people to work and live here if there isn’t better air,” she said. “Increasingly, air quality is an economic issue.”

Gochnour added that bad air episodes definitely impact how companies and convention planners look at Utah when considering where to locate.

“Even with people who are vacationing here during an episode of bad air quality, they leave with an opinion that is not helpful to economic development,” she said.

Priorities for the 2014 Legislature

Priority (Weighted scale)

1. Improving the quality of education in K-12 (1.0)

2. Decreasing pollution (0.74)

3. Protecting states’ rights (0.51)

4. Increasing the number of quality jobs (0.37)

5. Improving the ethics and oversight of elected state and local officials (0.31)

6. Creating a business-friendly economy (0.30)

7. Expanding the availability of health care coverage (0.25)

8. Lowering the costs of health care (0.24)

9. Increasing the state’s amount of water supply (0.24)

10. Protecting gun rights (0.22)

11. Decreasing taxes (0.22)

12. Preventing illegal immigration (0.20)

13. Providing nondiscrimination laws for gays and lesbians (0.20)

14. Decreasing state government spending (0.18)

15. Lowering the cost of energy, i.e. utilities and gasoline prices (0.18)

16. Investing in transportation infrastructure (0.16)

17. Improving the quality of education at Utah’s colleges and universities (0.13)

18. Allowing mining and grazing on federal lands in Utah (0.11)

19. Reducing crime (0.06)

20. Expanding consumer protections (0.02)

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