By David Hinckley
Legislators from Utah County may have the sway they need this year to advance some long-standing priorities.
Through a series of events, county legislators have found themselves in key positions in the government where they have the ability to push forward policy.
Lt. Governor Gary Herbert is a prime example. A former Utah County commissioner, Herbert dropped out of the race for governor before the primaries to become Gov. Jon Huntsman?s running-mate.
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said although Herbert was elected to serve the State of Utah rather than Utah County specifically, he was glad to have a Lt. Governor who has to travel I-15 every day.
Another official Billings has worked closely with is Huntsman?s legislative liaison, Michael Mower. Huntsman plucked Mower out of his lobbying and public relations work for Provo City to be his chief contact with legislators. In this position, Mower will both promote Huntsman?s policies and have the governor?s ear in policy decisions.
Two key legislative leaders Mower will work with are senate president John Valentine of Orem and house majority leader Jeff Alexander of Provo.
Valentine said this session will reflect the strength of the leadership from Utah County, and that transportation and education would both be big priorities.
?Transportation is the big priority for Utah County,? said Utah County Commissioner Steve White. ?We haven?t had much increase in square feet of pavement in the past 10 years.?
Transportation may be an area where the Lt. Governor can have some sway. Herbert?s assistant, Brian Maxwell, said Huntsman requested that Herbert take the lead in transportation, water and public land issues. He added that Herbert plans to be an active Lt. Governor.
The county may need all the sway it can get. White said he anticipates battles this session with legislators interested in stalling further I-15 construction in Utah County in favor of commuter rails to reduce congestion.
?Utah County is growing by 4,500 households a year,? White said. ?You could build the rail and still have I-15 as bad as it is.?
White also said he hopes Utah County?s influence can buy it some money for education.
Valentine said getting more money for Utah Valley State College was a specific priority. He said the legislature owed the college some ?make-up? money from past years with tight budgets.
County officials and legislators agree that the next two years before the next elections represent an opportunity for the area that should be taken advantage of.
?I think we have a great window of opportunity,? White said.
Valentine agreed. ?In the next two sessions it will be key for Utah County to [lay bare] its needs,? he said. ?That doesn?t mean the [legislature] will adopt all of its needs, but we will show the strength of the Utah County legislative delegation.?