Utah senators wary of giving NSA millions in tax relief

THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Published: February 11, 2014 02:31PM
Updated: February 11, 2014 09:59PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune An aerial view of the Utah Data Center is seen in this photo from April 18, 2013.

A bill that would exempt the National Security Agency’s data center in Bluffdale from paying taxes on its massive electric consumption met some resistance from legislators Tuesday, but remained on track.

The bill would codify a commitment made by former Gov. Jon Huntsman not to tax the utilities for the data center in an attempt to lure the massive NSA operation to Utah.

“It’s important for the state of Utah to keep the commitment it made,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the sponsor of SB45.

Several lawmakers questioned why they were bound to honor Huntsman’s pledge of an estimated $6 million in yearly tax breaks for the agency, which is unpopular in many quarters in light of revelations of its spying activities.

“I wasn’t part of the negotiations or the agreements of any of this, and I can’t support this bill,” said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork.

“I don’t remember that I’ve given any commitment to give tax subsidies to a spy center,” said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.

And Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said that the state gains little from the center — about 200 jobs — and it is one of the state’s biggest utility users. Paying the utility tax, he said, is “the least the feds could do.”

The bill won preliminary approval 22-7 and may be up for a final vote in the Senate later this week, although several backers expressed reservations about the measure.

— Robert Gehrke