Utah lawmakers approved revisions to a controversial law passed earlier this year creating an inland port, despite division among Salt Lake City leaders on the new version.
In a special session Wednesday afternoon called by Gov. Gary Herbert, lawmakers also approved online sales tax collection and made changes to state law to conform with recent federal tax reform, including $30 million in tax breaks for families.
The compromise bill worked out between the state and members of the Salt Lake City Council changes the 20,000-acre development planned in the city’s northwest quadrant. But lawmakers acknowledged the need for further discussion as the project moves forward.
The new version shrinks the boundaries of the Utah Inland Port Authority, caps property taxes the authority can collect — while setting aside 10 percent for affordable housing — and clarifies an appeals process for land use, among other tweaks.
“The support on this is amazing,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who sponsored the original bill and helped draft the new compromise. “But there are also a lot of questions. I don’t believe we can answer those questions until we’re further along.”
In a public hearing for the new bill Wednesday morning, Salt Lake City councilmembers unanimously affirmed support for the new version, which some helped negotiate. But Mayor Jackie Biskupski, citing a rushed process which lacked public input, called for a new bill altogether.
“It is clear that what is needed is not a cleanup and correction to a bad bill, but a new bill designed through a public process that respects local control,” she said.
Some lawmakers questioned why Biskupski would seek new legislation when she declined to participate in negotiations over the previous bill.
“I find that a little disheartening and disingenuous to the process to say, ‘well, we’re not even going to participate,’” said Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.
Biskupski had been in discussion with the governor’s office over changes to the bill in April, but those talks fell apart. Members of the City Council picked up negotiations in June, but Biskupski refused to join them.
“This administration will not endorse the behind-the-scenes negotiations you are currently involved in, which is absent of a public process,” Biskupski wrote in a July 11 letter to the City Council.
“The train was leaving the station,” Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said of the existing law. “We had a bill on the books that would irreparably harm our city, and we had an opportunity to jump into negotiations. We could take it or leave it, and to leave it would be a disservice to our taxpayers and the residents of our city.”
Some city residents have criticized the lack of public input on the process creating the port authority. And as time ran short on the hearing, Business and Labor Interim Committee chairman Curt Bramble, R-Provo, limited public comments to 60 seconds per person, which further angered some westside residents.
“You’re making our point!” some shouted.
“The process has been horrible,” Deeda Seed, a former city councilwoman, told lawmakers. “An example of that is what we’re seeing today. The community has really had to create a public process outside of the Legislature and that’s really unfortunate.”
The residents of Draper, Sandy, Herriman, Saratoga Springs and other cities had 2 years of a public process on Point of the Mt...SLC residents are given 60 seconds pic.twitter.com/tvNU1k7Scu
— Mayor J. Biskupski (@slcmayor) July 18, 2018
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bill, with some calling it a positive — and needed — step forward.
“This ship has to launch,” said sponsor and port authority board member Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. “I think we’re working well with the municipalities at hand.”
Other lawmakers representing parts of Salt Lake City echoed Biskupski’s concerns and voted against the bill.
“This is not a fix,” said Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. “This is a Band-Aid, and it’s not a big enough Band-Aid to put on a wound.”
Lawmakers also approved a handful of tax bills in Wednesday’s special session. One requires online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes. That means Utahns will have to begin paying sales taxes on most online purchases beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
State budget analysts estimate an additional $60 million in annual tax revenue when the bill takes effect.
Lawmakers also approved a package of bills aimed at bringing the state into compliance with recent changes to the federal tax code. The new language will also provide $30 million in tax breaks for families.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Gov. Herbert applauded the outcome of the special session.
“I deeply appreciate the hard work done by members of the Salt Lake City Council” on the inland port bill, he said. “They helped craft a more sustainable foundation for this huge opportunity that we have through the Utah Inland Port to connect Utah workers and ingenuity with the global supply chain.”
“I am also very pleased that as the legislature harmonized our tax code with some recent major changes in national tax policy that they could help Utah’s families avoid unanticipated income tax hikes.”