Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was in Moab Tuesday to meet with local Republican leaders and visit the Sand Flats Recreation Area before he drove to Castle Valley – all part of his quest to visit 248 Utah cities and towns as he campaigns to become the state’s chief executive.
Cox in an interview with The Times-Independent said if elected governor he would back local governments’ interest in adding more flexibility in how Transient Room Tax revenue can be spent.
“I would support using a portion of TRT for infrastructure,” he said. Cox, a Republican, said he is “well aware” of the stresses Moab’s booming tourism economy has on road traffic and other infrastructure, particularly on weekends. He said infrastructure – ranging from roads to water and sewer – has to be able to accommodate the ever-growing volume of visitors to southeastern Utah. Cox added that lawmakers every year earmark $5 million for tourism infrastructure. As a recognized “hotspot,” he said Moab would be eligible for a slice of that pie.
“This is money that is used to improve and enhance the community,” said Cox. He noted the Utah Legislature funded the Highway 191 widening project from where it bottlenecks just north of downtown to Highway 128.
Cox also indicated more attention would be paid to rural Utah communities if he were elected, which he said have been “very under-represented” over the years.
But no matter how much attention Grand County gets if Cox is elected, he won’t be able to influence plans to build a Love’s Travel Stop on the San Juan County side of Spanish Valley – even if he wanted to do so. “SITLA [School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration] is an independent agency,” said Cox. “They are not under the purview of the governor’s office.” The governor appoints a member to the SITLA board, but that is the only role the executive office plays.
While Cox declined to comment on a letter the Grand County Council sent to a Love’s executive asking the company to withdraw its plan to build a 53-space truck stop on 13 acres on Highway 191 at Sunny Acres Lane, he did say SITLA’s mission is to maximize profits when it sells state land. “And remember that 100 percent goes to schools and schoolchildren.”
When asked if he had any advice on how tourism-weary residents and the business community that serves those tourists could better get along, Cox said, “You have to work together. Stopping growth is not the answer, instead, work with business. Business can help provide affordable housing and address some of the issues that have people upset.”