Add to that a well-fought battle between two capable candidates for mayor in Salt Lake City and a mammoth $192 million bond issue to build public safety facilities in the capital city, and the stakes in this election are high indeed.
The Tribune's Editorial Board has interviewed candidates for Salt Lake City offices, some of them twice, in addition to researching and hearing arguments pro and con from activists on the major ballot issues. We published our recommendations in separate editorials, beginning Oct. 21 and concluding yesterday. A summary follows.
Our purpose is not to tell Utahns how to vote. That's your business and, in a republic, your duty as a citizen. We only hope to contribute to the debate.
Election Day is tomorrow. The choice is yours.
* Citizens' State Referendum Number 1 (School Vouchers) - Against - The radical Friedmanites in the Legislature are selling this law as the answer to education problems in Utah. It isn't. It ultimately would take tax funds away from public schools and direct them to private schools.
What's more, this plan offends the spirit, if not the letter, of both the Utah and U.S. constitutions by routing tax funds to religion-based private schools, albeit through the laundering medium of a voucher.
Voucher advocates' arguments that private competition would force the public schools to improve, that vouchers would relieve enrollment pressures on the public schools and leave money behind to improve overall education funding, are dubious at best.
In the bargain, private schools would be less accountable to the taxpayers than public schools, their teachers would not have to be certified, testing would be less rigorous and the amount of the vouchers - between $500 and $3,000, depending on family size and income - would not be enough to pay for tuition in a quality private school.
Utah already has the lowest per-student public school funding and the largest class sizes in the nation. Teacher pay is substandard.
This Rube Goldberg scheme would make all these problems worse while undermining the community commitment to public education.
* Question Number 1 (Jordan School District split) - No - Voters in Sandy, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Alta and a portion of unincorporated Salt Lake County will vote whether to secede from the Jordan School District and form their own. West Jordan voters also will decide whether to leave the district and form a new one in their city.
Resource allocation is driving the east-side split. City leaders there claim that they are getting the short end of funding because the district's capital resources are diverted to build new schools for the fast-growing west side. In West Jordan, the question is whether that city would be better off going it alone rather than anchoring a west-side rump district left behind after an east-side split.
But there are too many unanswered questions. The Legislature has yet to deal with proposals to equalize capital funding statewide or countywide, and the effects on academic programs in a divided district have been left unexplored.
* Salt Lake City Proposition Number 1 (Public Safety Facilities) - For - The proposal would give Salt Lake City permission to issue up to $192 million in bonds to build a new headquarters for the police and fire departments, an emergency operations center capable of withstanding earthquake and tornado, and an evidence storage and parking facility, all to be located together downtown. In addition, a combined fire station and police precinct building could be built in Sugar House and a combined fire station and training facility could be improved in Glendale.
No one seriously questions the need to replace the cramped and leaking public safety building downtown, built in 1958, which would be heavily damaged in a high-magnitude earthquake. Objections center on the size of the bond, which, if fully implemented, would increase taxes on a $297,000 home by $175. But delay would only inflate construction costs, and city leaders promise they will spend less if possible.
* Salt Lake City Mayor - Progressive Democrat Ralph Becker gets our recommendation over Republican Dave Buhler. Both would bring solid experience to the job, Becker as a longtime state legislator and minority leader, Buhler as a one-time state senator and two-term city councilman. We prefer Becker's blueprint.
* Salt Lake City District 2 - Two-term incumbent Van Turner gets our nod over community activist Michael Clara. Turner's experience as City Council chairman will serve the district well as the city focuses increasing resources on the west side.
* Salt Lake City District 4 - The platforms of two-term incumbent Nancy Saxton and challenger Luke Garrott are similar. Both are progressives. We would stick with Saxton.
* Salt Lake City District 6 - J.T. Martin, the energetic and gregarious owner of Emigration Market, is our choice for the seat being vacated by Buhler. His opponent, lawyer Roger McConkie, doesn't match Martin's enthusiasm or platform.