Utah senators passed a bill Friday to start saving money for big water projects in a move opposed on environmental and fiscal grounds.
Under Senate Bill 80, sales tax revenue now earmarked for transportation projects would be split with a new water projects fund. That’s more than $35 million a year at current levels. But it’s just a fraction of the $33 billion big water districts want for updating existing water systems and tapping new resources, including Utah’s unused share of the Colorado River.
“We’re saving for the money like a 401K, knowing that someday we’re going to have the obligation of building projects,” said sponsoring Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.
Supporters say the bill commits no money for big projects. But critics counter that some projects on the list aren’t even needed.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said it appears the money’s destined for a controversial project that could cost $4 billion.
“From my vantage point, it looks like a Lake Powell Pipeline; it smells like a Lake Powell Pipeline; and it drinks like a Lake Powell Pipeline,” he said before voting against the bill.
Fiscal conservatives said instead of the new fund, the free market should be allowed to work. Sen. Howard Stephenson is a Republican representing Draper and president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. He said water rates are too low in proposed project areas.
And he added: “We are taking money from the people to create a revolving loan fund that the private sector funds very well.”
Senate Bill 80 passed 19-10 Friday. It heads now to the Utah House of Representatives.