“From an economic perspective on the 2011 session, I gave very high marks to the Legislature, felt like they delivered on the key economic issues of concern,” said Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer Natalie Gochnour.
Speaking to the Davis Chamber of Commerce in their monthly membership meeting Thursday, she focused on education, transportation, modification of liquor licensing and immigration.
She pointed to education as “a top economic priority, and a Legislature that was responsive to the Governor’s leadership and funded growth in public education. That was a major priority of business leaders.
“I gave them high marks for funding optional full-day kindergarten,” Gochnour continued. “They were very supportive of funding for higher education.”
Though there were cuts, Gochnour pointed out that the impact could have been much greater than it was.
“At one time it looked like they would get a 7 percent cut and in the end, 2 percent was cut – which was still hard. But higher education has tuition (as a possible way to help close funding gaps). I felt like that was a respectable effort on behalf of the Legislature,” she said.
For transportation, the Salt Lake chamber official lauded the efforts of Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, for his efforts in getting a major infrastructure bill passed that secures long-term transportation funding.
“This is not widely known, but they took one more step toward modernizing our liquor laws, which was a very positive development,” she said.
The allocation of licenses was changed so there were fewer for beer taverns and more for restaurants. “That’s positive for our convention business and for the image of our state,” Gochnour said.
“In a national model sort of way, they not only increased enforcement but they introduced a new guest worker program that I think provides significant protections for our economy,” she said of immigration legislation.
“When you add all of those up, that is a superb session for the Utah economy at a time when the economy needed that,” Gochnour said.
“They tackled some very challenging, controversial and divisive issues, and didn’t shrink away” from taking them on, Davis Chamber President Jim Smith agreed.
He noted the close cooperation between the Davis and Salt Lake Chambers to promote education funding.
“We wish it was more, but under the circumstances, they worked very hard to minimize any impact on education which we feel very strongly about,” Smith said.
“In the end, we felt like the outcome was very much in line with a balanced approach, which is what the chambers have been encouraging,” he said of legislative action on immigration.
“We (state) were smart enough to put pressure on the federal government by having an implementation date in July of 2013,” for Utah legislation, Smith said.
“We sent a message to the feds that they have two years to do something. Whether we make any difference, at least we’re sending a very strong message,” he said.
“It’s a federal problem. It can’t be pushed down to the states.”
The luncheon was held at The Castle in Layton. Next month’s gathering will be at The Wight House in Bountiful, April 21 at 11:30 a.m., and feature a “legislative de-briefing.”