Prison Relocation and Sales Tax Increase

Last week the Utah legislature passed legislation that ties an increase in the cap on sales tax to the relocation of the prison.

Let me rephrase that – the very last night of the session a sales tax increase was inserted into the Prison Development bill, going around the committee process, public hearings and opportunity for public comment or debate.

An increase in sales tax is something Mayor Becker has lobbied to obtain for years. It was a centerpiece of his State of the City address last year.

But I’ve been speaking with hundreds of voters in Salt Lake City and there are two things I am certain of:

  1. We do not want the prison relocated to Salt Lake City, and
  2. We do not want a tax increase.

So I ask, whose agenda is the Mayor pushing? Because it certainly isn’t the agenda of Salt Lake City residents, at least none that I know.

I’ve been told that the Mayor held closed-door meetings about this tax prior to the end of the session.  YET CITY RESIDENTS LIKE YOU AND ME KNOW NOTHING OF IT UNTIL WE READ IN THE NEWSPAPER ABOUT A LATE NIGHT, LAST MINUTE DEAL.

As a former State Representative I can tell you there is no worse way to make public policy decisions. An open, transparent process is vital. Insider backroom deals like this undermine people’s confidence in their government.

But for this administration this is nothing new.

Almost half of the recent property tax increase that was sold as paying for desperately needed infrastructure repairs was spent instead by Mayor Becker on some of his own priorities.

What about the arbitrary DISRUPTION of an entire neighborhood along third south in the configuration of the bike lanes located there?

And what about the giant, HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR Broadway Theater that city residents will pay for without ever having a public vote?

And now the Mayor has opened the door for a sales tax increase upon our residents which IN TURN opens the door for THE STATE PRISON TO BE DUMPED ON SALT LAKE CITY.

Let’s be very clear here, even if you might be willing to discuss the idea of a sales tax increase, you don’t get the tax UNLESS you take the prison.

I ask the people of Salt Lake City, when major decisions like this are imposed upon our City and our pocketbooks, do you feel included? Do you feel heard? Is this how we want our city to run.

The decision to relocate the prison is tricky because no community WANTS the prison. But there are strong public policy and fiscal reasons for not putting the prison in our Capital City.

Mayor Becker would not be looking for a sales tax increase had he successfully built and retained a strong economic development team at some point during his administration. BUT HE HASN’T. We have lost countless opportunities, including the high tech jobs that are now located at the south end of the valley and in Utah County.

When the Fairpark Soccer Stadium deal fell apart, where was the Mayor? That stadium would have been a major revenue source for our city. The lack of leadership killed the deal and sent yet another city opportunity elsewhere.

Draper knows that tying up valuable land with a prison – when so many other job producing uses would bring far greater benefit to its citizens – makes no sense. If it doesn’t make sense in Draper, it certainly doesn’t make sense in Utah’s capital city, and for all the same reasons.

When the Mountain View Corridor is completed that area will be a nexus of several major highways and our international airport. The opportunity for commercial, manufacturing, warehouse distribution development and job creation in that area is massive.

And finally, Salt Lake’s west side already does MORE than its share when it comes to the corrections system. Our west side neighbors already host six halfway houses and a parole violator center. Add the Mayor’s push to move homeless services there, as well, shows his lack of vision for building a thriving community with a strong economy on the west side of our city.

The pattern is clear: This Mayor has his own agenda and he is working to advance it even if it takes secretive backroom deals with no one else’s buy-in. The problem is, his agenda is not necessarily OUR agenda. And if a project or idea is not on HIS list – even if it would be good for all of us – he is nowhere to be found.

Coupling a sales tax no one wants with a prison relocation no one wants is deplorable.

Today I call on Governor Herbert to veto HB 454, Prison Development Amendments, because the residents of this city do not want a sales tax increase and a prison. I ask the residents of Salt Lake City to please join me by also contacting the governor, and demanding a veto of HB 454.

No prison, no sale tax increase that is an agenda we can all agree upon.