At the most recent Prison Relocation Meeting on February 27, legislators voted to add two additional sites to the list. One of those sites is located in Tooele and the other is located in Fairfield, which lies just to the west of Eagle Mountain. The Salt Lake site near the airport was expanded to now include approximately 4,000 acres of land. The sites are outlined in the report presented to the PRC. That report can be viewed HERE. Eagle Mountain City has taken a balanced and fair approach to understand the needs or wants of the State, the objectives of the Prison Relocation Commission (PRC), and the full scope of costs that would be associated with relocating the prison to Eagle Mountain or Fairfield. Staff and I have worked tirelessly to help State Legislators understand how the prison would negatively impact our community and our financial health. If you haven’t read the report we produced, you can read it HERE. My communication with State legislators, and specifically those who sit on the PRC, has been positive and effective. Our research has been balanced and has led to a definitive conclusion that the capital cost as well as the ongoing operational cost of a prison in the Cedar Valley would be far too high to make sense for the State. As a result of these conclusions, we want nothing to do with the prison relocation process, or the debate about it. Unfortunately, neither the Eagle Mountain or Fairfield sites have been released from consideration.
During the legislative session House Bill 454 was introduced to make amendments to existing laws with the purpose of developing the new prison. In short, that bill established the “Prison Development Commission” and provided structure for the administration of the prison relocation. The bill also established a deadline of August 1, 2015 by which a final location would need to be chosen and reported to the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President. The bill contained a provision that would allow the Governor to call the legislature into special session to vote on the site selection.
HB 454 went through the house and senate with two substitutions. The second substitution passed on the last day of the legislature. Prior to the signing of the bill, I called the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff. I voiced my opposition to the bill and asked the Governor to veto the bill. As you may be aware, the bill has now been signed into law by Governor Herbert. The additions give the authority for the Prison Development Commission to issue bonds in the amount of up to $474,700,000. Additionally, the bill establishes an optional sales tax that the city council of the selected site may impose on its residents. The rate of that tax is 0.5%. Again this is an optional sales tax to be determined by the city council of whichever city receives the prison. I do not support the bill. Not only will all Utahns have the obligation to pay for the prison, but the city that is selected can impose an additional tax on its residents to offset the impact of receiving it. The bill also allows the Division of Finance to enter into agreements and spend money on various components of the prison project (such as engineering, architectural design, etc.) prior to receiving funds from the issuance of bonds. $80,000,000 has already been appropriated for the prison this legislative session. When the bonds are issued, funds will be used not only to build the prison, but also to pay the interest payments while the prison is being constructed, and twelve months after its completion. In essence the State is allowed to issue debt and to pay the interest with the borrowed funds for at least a couple years.
I am frustrated with the disruptive effect the prison relocation process has had on all of our communities. I believe this process has been handled poorly on many levels. If our elected representatives in the legislature have determined that it is necessary and beneficial to move the prison (which I disagree with), then I question what they would consider an acceptable cost. I have asked the consultants and legislators, and I have not received an answer. I know that the infrastructure cost alone in Eagle Mountain is well over $100,000,000. The cost of the Fairfield site is just as high. The cost of the land and water will be an additional expense. In spite of this, their reply has only been that we all have an equal shot at being selected. I must conclude that the State legislature is willing to spend at least $100,000,000 in infrastructure costs. This hardly seems like a sound approach to fiscal responsibility.
The local option sales tax that was added to HB 454 at the 11th hour of the legislative session saw virtually no conversation on the house floor. On the Senate floor, the bill received some discussion before conversation was halted under a Utah Constitutional provision which allows legislators to call for an end to debate and a vote. I was disappointed by the hasty addition of the tax provision. The legislature has essentially used an “increased taxing authority” as an incentive for the municipality that receives the prison. Offering such “incentives” will only result in higher taxation of residents after receiving the prison they didn’t want in the first place. Of all sites under consideration, there is only one that stands to receive any significant benefit (benefit to the government, not the people). That site is Salt Lake City. They are the only municipality out of the five that have something to gain from such a tax. It was disappointing that bill passed through the House and the Senate without more protest. I applaud Senator Jenkins, Senator Henderson, and Senator Harper for speaking out against this tax and against the bill.
Now that Governor has signed this bill, I will again spend time communicating with the members of the Prison Relocation Commission, the Prison Development Commission (when members are selected), and the legislative body as a whole. We will deliver the same message again. Eagle Mountain and Fairfield would be poor sites for the relocation of the prison.