While the future is impossible to predict with any precision, 2018 promises to be an eventful year along the Wasatch Front.
Voters face possible initiatives dealing with the legalization of medical marijuana, changes in how political parties select candidates and a proposed tax increase for public education. The political year will culminate in the 2018 general election, in which all four of the state’s House seats and the Senate seat currently held by Orrin Hatch will be up for grabs.
Beyond this, three other ongoing stories will deserve watchful attention from this editorial page, with long-term consequences for Utah and beyond.
The first of these is the continuing saga of the state’s homeless population. In 2017, politicians, led by House Speaker Greg Hughes, made great strides toward cleaning what had become an untenable cesspool of crime and predatory behavior around Salt Lake City’s main homeless shelter on Rio Grande Street.
Crimes, including murder, had turned the neighborhood into a lawless area, with criminals preying on the vulnerable and truly needy. Meanwhile, service providers lacked any coherent strategy for providing long-term care for the homeless or reintegrating them into mainstream society.
But while the crackdown has produced obvious benefits, the situation defies simple solutions. Political leaders hope to keep the criminal element away from the shelter until new, safer shelters, spread throughout the Salt Lake Valley, open in 2019.
Efforts to clean the Rio Grande neighborhood must extend to other affected neighborhoods, and we support changes that permanently improve parts of west downtown that have been marred by decades of criminal activity.
A second ongoing story concerns planning for growth along Utah’s “silicon slopes,” an area roughly defined as the southern portion of Salt Lake County and the northern part of Utah County.
About a quarter of a million new residents are expected to move into this area during the next 30 years, taking advantage of jobs created by nearby technology companies.
The Point of the Mountain Development Commission, created by the Legislature, recently unveiled five scenarios for handling this growth, ranging from doing nothing to spending $11.4 billion for infrastructure and other amenities.
This has the potential to be one of Utah’s silent stories over the coming years. The growth may come rapidly, but its effects — traffic congestion, increased pollution and rising home prices — could sneak up on people who may not understand the causes.
Smart political decisions, including coordinated zoning strategies among cities and state-funded transit and highway projects could make this growth an enhancement to the combined metro areas of the two counties. If done right, this planning could add to the state’s well-earned reputation as a place where the quality of life is a chief amenity.
Those decisions can come with political hazards, however. We plan to mitigate those by persuasively arguing for the long-term benefits of difficult decisions today.
Finally, the lack of civility continues to be a major concern of the editorial board. This destructive thread runs through social media, talk radio and both local and national political discussions.
In an election year when party balances are at stake, it is especially important to remind people that arguments are most persuasive when based on merits, not personal attacks. Respectful dialogue honors the Founding Fathers’ belief in the value of free speech as a cornerstone of self-government.
Ultimately, a civil dialogue would lead to thoughtful legislation and programs beneficial to a wide segment of the population.
We plan to make this an emphasis in 2018 as well, including encouraging respectful dialogue on these pages.