SALT LAKE CITY – Another Utah Inner Port Authority bill tabled at the end of the Utah Legislative Assembly’s general session this year seeks to create a funding mechanism for loans at low interest rates for rural port projects.
Even though dozens of speakers lined up online and in person on Utah’s Capitol Hill on Monday – filling the limited capacity of the Senate committee room due to COVID-19 and several overflow rooms – Committee chair Senator Daniel Thatcher has allowed less than 15 minutes of public comment on the bill as lawmakers head for the end of the 45-day session this week.
“We’re running out of time here,” Thatcher said of R-West Valley City, calling on the last public commentators to speak. Shortly thereafter, the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Political Subdivisions swiftly voted 6 to 1 to approve the bill, with only Senator Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, voting against.
It is now under consideration by the entire Senate.
that of Stevenson SB243 would create “infrastructure banks” that would store state money to use as a loan for future Utah Inner Port Authority projects, including projects in rural areas. House lawmakers announced on Friday that a large one-time sum of money – $ 75 million – would be set aside in this type of “infrastructure bank” specifically for port authority projects.
Supporters, including Utah Inland Port Authority executive director Jack Hedge, said the SB243 The bill to create “infrastructure banks” for rural port projects “would give us opportunities to focus on the efforts of rural areas”.
“Our goal with this infrastructure bank is to use that to drive project growth. … This is really our goal, ”Hedge said.
Stevenson echoed what Hedge and other pro-port stakeholders have pointed out to address environmental concerns.
“We have the opportunity to build a unique new port in the world,” Stevenson said. “I think all the industries that want to come here will all be very green. “
Activists have been protesting against the port for years – at one point storm the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce building in downtown and sometimes disrupt public meetings and face arrests – to prevent what they see as a project that would worsen Wasatch front air quality, ruin fragile wetlands near Great Salt Lake, disrupt Utah roads with more trucks and would increase fossil fuel exports from rural Utah.
While anti-inland port activists have spoken out against the bill, calling it yet another Utah Inland Port Authority bill drafted behind the scenes and unveiled in no time To get the audience digesting it, they rushed to finish their comments within the minute allotted to them before their mics were cut.
“This whole process is just ridiculous,” said Katie Pappas of Salt Lake City.
Deeda Seed, activist for the Center for Biological Diversity and lead organizer of Stop the Polluting Port, called the public process “shameful” and intended to facilitate the development of an inland port in Utah that continues to worry environmentalists because which she declared there “are there no green ports.
“Why are you creating a funding mechanism … even before a plan is in place?” Seed asked. “Wouldn’t it be more responsible to create the plan before creating a fundraising vehicle?
The bill’s sponsor, Senate Budget Chairman Jerry Stevenson, said SB243 “builds a fence around these funds until a viable project comes to authority” and a committee loan would determine the viability of the project.
As currently provided for in the bill, the loan fund would be managed by a committee of five appointed members, two of whom are appointed by the Governor, one by the Speaker of the House, one by the Speaker of the Senate and one by the Speaker of the Senate. the permanent community. Council of the Impact Fund.
“It doesn’t return the funds to those authorities,” Stevenson says. “They have to go through a process to get them.”
The bill would also create a loan fund mechanism for the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, the board overseeing the development of the future site of Utah State Prison in Draper, and the Military Installation Development Authority, an agency the state originally created to accelerate development near Hill Air Force Base, but was expanded to create a new ski resort in Wasatch County.
Victoria Ashby, director of government relations for the League of Cities and Towns of Utah, and Salt Lake City Councilor Andrew Johnston have expressed concerns about the bill. They asked for a city representative on the committee that oversees the loan fund, as well as concerns that the loan fund could serve as a vehicle to potentially spend the increase in municipal tax (tax revenue generated by the growth of the property tax) on projects outside the Salt Lake City project. territorial jurisdiction.
“We have to be careful of this,” said Johnston. “Because it might be a kind of precedent-setting step.”
Salt Lake City is still grappling with a legal battle with the state, which has now reached the level of the Utah Supreme Court, over whether the creation of the Utah Inland Port Authority and its nearly 16,000 acre jurisdiction in Salt Lake City are constitutional.
Stevenson said he was still working on the bill “as I sat in church yesterday”, and promised in Salt Lake City and other parties that “the door is not closed” . We will continue the discussions.
To complaints about the late tabled bill and the condensed time for public comment on the bill, Stevenson admitted, “It’s late in the session.”
“My apologies to the audience, but this has a lot to do with my schedule and my editors,” he said. “We are not going as fast as usual.”
Stevenson said the bill had been worked on “throughout the session”. Even though Friday marked the first time that lawmakers have disclosed that they are considering creating “infrastructure banking” legislation and that they have arrived at the figure of $ 75 million, Stevenson said he did not. there was “no attempt to circumvent any process or public opinion in this bill.”
“There was no attempt to do it in the back room,” Stevenson said. “It’s in the light of day now.