A statewide poll released as lawmakers gave a green light to moving the Utah State Prison shows public support for the project is lukewarm.
Just 46 percent of those who participated in the email survey support the relocation project, while 33 percent oppose it and 21 percent are undecided. The poll was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.
In a news release, Dan Jones said more Utahns support the move than oppose it but state leaders have work to do to rally those who are currently undecided about the project. The polling firm sent an email survey about the project to a random sample of about 2,000 Utahns. It said 740 people responded to the "business sentiment" survey.
There were few dissenters as a resolution in support of moving the Draper facility made its way through the Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, passed the Senate 25-1, with three absentees. The lone nay came from Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.
In the House, HCR 8 was approved 70-3, with two absentees. The "nos" came from Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville; Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain; and Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan.
The Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA) also green-lighted the project after determining it would cost the state $783 million to renovate and maintain the prison at its current location over the next 20 years and $1 billion to move it. PRADA estimates the state would reap $1.9 billion annually in economic benefits, including state and local tax revenue, if the nearly 700 acres the prison currently occupies is redeveloped.
But the nays in the Legislature aren’t convinced yet the numbers add up.
Anderson said he promised his constituents that if the numbers did not show a clear win for taxpayers, he would not vote in favor of moving the prison.
"The numbers that I was presented with did not show that," he said Monday. Anderson said a report prepared by PRADA said the project would generate $60 million in taxes from new construction. But rebuilding in Draper would generate the same $60 million, Anderson figured.
"I did not see the immediate and drastic need that other people seem to see there," he said.
Lifferth said that while he believes the prison "probably" should be moved, he’s not yet comfortable with the plan.
"It’s definitely a work in progress," he said, " and I would like to have more of the established parameters and what is involved before I vote in favor of that."
More important, perhaps, is that a survey of his constituents showed they aren’t ready for it yet either, Lifferth said.
Tanner found the same thing when he surveyed his constituents, from whom he heard a lot of "What are those guys trying to do?" responses.
"There is still general disagreement with moving it," Taylor said. And there’s still suspicion that the project is motivated by real-estate interests.
"It has not yet been sold to the people I represent," he said.
Tanner also said an obstacle for him was that while PRADA did a lot of work, the authority did not "determine what was going to be actually done." Instead, it has presented "broad aspirational goals of what a new prison is going to look like," Tanner said.
"The main thing seemed to be coming to the conclusion that this property is going to be sold and the rest is left to be determined later," Tanner said. "I’m a little uncomfortable leaving that at loose ends. … It may be the best idea in the world, but the little bit I do know about it, I’m not in a position to say I’m behind it yet."
Utahns at large apparently feel the same way.
The prison is aging, sits on prime real estate and is projected to be a net economic boost to the state, said Natalie Gochnor, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business, in a press release.
But, "our survey indicates the public doesn’t yet understand the economics of moving the prison," she said.
The Dan Jones survey also found support for the project divided along partisan lines. Among Republicans, 58 percent favored the relocation project while 21 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, only 25 percent said they support the project, with 55 percent opposed. Independents split, with 38 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.
— Brooke Adams
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