John Daley ReportingSharp words today from Salt Lake City's mayor over Salt Lake County's unfolding scandal of taxpayer-paid perks and fuel economy. The brouhaha has even earned an unforgettable name -- Guzzler Gate.
With high gas prices fuel economy has again become a political issue. And this controversy brings up a fascinating contrast: while Salt Lake City government is doing everything it can to save gas, Salt Lake County officials have been driving around in SUVs using as much gas as they want, and guess who's paying? All of us.
Last year in the Salt Lake Valley, on 40 separate days smog was so bad officials issued health warnings. 60% of the pollutants fouling our air come from gas-burning cars and trucks. But Salt Lake's two largest governments have had wildly divergent responses to the problem.
Salt Lake City has led a clean-car crusade getting rid of dozens of SUVs, making officials drive their own cars, investing in alternative-fuel vehicles, even switching meter readers to pint-sized mini-cars.
Meantime, Salt Lake County executives--including the County Mayor--have been guzzling gallons of gas like there's no tomorrow. Driving huge SUVs, one official was averaging 4.6 miles a gallon, another quit after it was revealed he used his county SUV to drive his boat down to Lake Powell.
With a war in the Middle East and gas prices topping $2 a gallon, the timing couldn't be worse. The Salt Lake Tribune dubbed it "guzzler gate", and today's Bagley cartoon skewered the Mayor royally.
Nancy Workman, Mayor of Salt Lake County: "On my appointed officials I took away their cars and their car allowances, which was a really drastic thing to do. But I just had to clean the slate so we could go forward with a study on the rest of the county's fleet and see what's going on with the fleet. Why do we have sports utility vehicles? I don’t know, that's just what they gave me when I took office."
County officials say their fleet has won national awards and they use SUVs because they have better resale value. But Salt Lake City's mayor--who drives his own clean-burning alternative fuel vehicle--calls the county's policies appalling.
Rocky Anderson, Salt Lake City Mayor: "I'll never understand the idea especially of having gas guzzling vehicles and having taxpayers pay to fuel them. That is just beyond me."
Mayor Workman says she and other elected and appointed officials using county cars have until June 15th to turn in their SUVs. She says she's not sure what kind of car she'll get, but in case of a county emergency she'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle.