SALT LAKE CITY – Veteran Utah lawmakers are anticipating that the next installment of Gov. Gary Herbert’s plan for the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus will include using Utah’s AAA bond rating to fund infrastructure projects.
A significant portion of those projects will undoubtedly be located in Utah’s 24 rural counties, according to state Sen. Lyle Hillyard.
“These (infrastructure) investments will help the businesses in Utah recover faster,” Hillyard said. “There is always a risk in any decision, but I feel comfortable with prudent investments in very needed projects.”
That view is shared by Utah House Speaker Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
“There’s a lot of (Utah’s $3 billion) bonding capacity not being used right now,” Wilson explained. “This could be the year where we decide to invest in infrastructure in rural Utah.”
Herbert’s Utah Leads Together 4.0 plan is slated to be released in early June. That recovery proposal is expected to recommend using the state’s bonding power to fund stimulus projects as a viable option in the midst of the economic slump due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillyard says that the bonding option is particularly attractive right now because Utah traditionally funds infrastructure projects with cash accounts. Preserving those current revenues by funding projects with bonding will help to reduce the need for statewide budget cuts due to declining tax revenues.
During the economic recession that began in 2008 due to the collapse of the housing market, Utah launched a massive project to rebuild the I-15 corridor in Utah County to create new jobs for Utahns.
“Using bonding capacity and doing building projects is a great way to have that kind of economic stimulus,” according to Derek Miller, the chairman of the Utah Economic Recovery Task Force.
Miller said the governor’s forthcoming recommendations will include tourism-related infrastructure projects as well as enhancement of the state’s fiber-optic networks to accommodate what may be a permanent shift to working from home in the future.
Hillyard added that the proposed Health Sciences Building at the Bridgerland Technical College in Logan is another ideal candidate for bond funding of brick-and-mortar projects.
The senator emphasized that construction of the building will generate new jobs in Cache Valley, students are already waiting in line to fill its classrooms and employers across the state are eager to hire new healthcare technicians.