Utah wants a bite of stimulus cash

Stimulus » Guv seeks $14B for highways, rail, water and buildings.
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Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. rolled out $14 billion in road, rail, water and building projects Monday that could be part of a proposed $850 billion national stimulus package.

"It's asking for whatever is available," Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said. "You can only do so much at a time, so we're providing the information to help [the new administration] understand."

President-elect Barack Obama has proposed a massive stimulus package to invigorate a slumping economy and beef up the nation's deteriorating infrastructure.

The overwhelming majority of Utah's wish list is for road work, some $11.7 billion in all, including Interstate 15 in Utah County, the Mountain View Corridor in western Salt Lake County and upgrades on treacherous U.S. Highway 6 in east-central Utah.

The state estimates that if all the projects won funding -- which they certainly will not -- it could create more than 124,000 jobs.

Huntsman said in a recent interview that he is confident Congress will deliver a stimulus package and has cited the uncertainty over its size and scope as one reason he is not calling the Utah Legislature into a special session to address the state's projected $350 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.

"We're hearing loud and clear from Utah businesses that what they want us working on is a stimulus package for our state," said Natalie Gochnour, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "If you combine a federal stimulus package and a smart state package and the natural corrections that we're already a year into this [recession], these are all the right things to return to more normal levels of growth."

In addition to the road projects, the governor is asking for $2.2 billion for rail and transit projects, including $1.5 billion to expand FrontRunner commuter rail and $310 million for a TRAX light-rail line to Salt Lake City International Airport.

"These ventures would provide concrete stimulus to our economy, resulting in positive impacts to Utah families," Huntsman said in a statement. "This is a tremendous opportunity to fast-forward work on critical infrastructure projects and create a focus on Utah's effort to develop more [natural-gas] fueling sites throughout the state."

Other states also are compiling requests, to be delivered to the National Governors Association and routed to the incoming Obama administration.

Some Utah officials are less enthusiastic about the sprawling spending program -- the largest since the construction of the interstate highway system.

"Well, it's Christmas and Santa Claus is alive and well. He's living in Washington," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

He said he understands that states have a hard time saying no to the enticement of federal money, knowing it would just be reallocated elsewhere.

At the same time, Stephenson said he hopes I-15 reconstruction gets funded, because of the economic benefits it would bring to the state.