Salt Lake City lobbies for veto on state-run trade hub, but governor still says he’ll approve it

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, left, and Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert listen as members of the newly announced Olympic/Paralympic Exploratory Committee (OEC) meet with members of the media to outline their reasons for exploring the possibility of hosting a future Olympic Winter Games, Oct. 19, 2017.

Salt Lake City’s lobbying effort to block what city officials view as a virtual state takeover of the capital’s northwest quadrant to anchor a new international trade facility continued Monday even as Gov. Gary Herbert’s office again signaled his intention to approve the measure.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski said Monday she had spoken with Herbert and would meet with him later this week to press the city’s case against the state plan. SB234 was approved hastily by lawmakers last week as the Legislature rushed toward adjournment.

The governor’s office, in a statement Monday, said Herbert “intends to sign the legislation, but he looks forward to visiting with the mayor later this week to discuss the kind of technical fixes that need to be made in the next general legislative session.”

The governor made a similar pledge last year when he promised to tweak legislation that dropped Utah’s blood alcohol threshold for drunken driving to the lowest in the nation. That effort fizzled this session and the law stands as approved.

There is no opposition among officials at any levels of government in Utah to creating a special trade zone within the state where overseas goods could be received and processed, bypassing coastal ports of entry. All parties see the expected commercial and economic boon such a facility would deliver. The disagreement has been over control.

Salt Lake City has enacted its own plan to guide development of its largely undeveloped northwest quadrant and has laid the groundwork for creating such a port entity under its own auspices. City officials see the state plan as broad overreach, given the new authority’s powers to make land-use decisions within the city’s boundaries and siphon tax revenues from the city to support itself.

The Port Authority created by the bill, governed by a state-heavy appointed board, would hold taxing jurisdiction and ultimate land use authority over an area approximately one-third of the city’s size.

The city released figures Monday saying roughly $1 billion in tax revenue could be at stake over the initial 25-year authorization set up under the bill. Most of that is revenue due the city and its school district, with a small remainder for the library system.

Biskupski said Monday the “extreme nature of this legislation,” which was substantially revised in a last-minute legislative push, is “starting to make people uncomfortable.”

“It is unprecedented. It is extreme,” she said. “I don’t think any community would want a third of its property in the hands of an unelected unaccountable board.”

She added that the state proposal could bring the city’s existing plans for the area “to a screeching halt.”

Salt Lake City wants the governor to veto the inland port bill, perhaps following that by calling the Legislature back into special session to come up with an alternative under which the city retains taxing and land-use control.

Better still, from the city’s standpoint, would be some kind of contract between the city and the state to run the inland port in partnership.

“This isn’t a partnership,” the mayor said.

Even if the measure was vetoed, the 20 Senate and 61 House votes last week would be enough to override a veto of SB234, if they held.

Failing a successful veto by the governor, the city’s options likely fall back to litigation, although officials stop short of making that threat just yet.

“We will do what we need to do to protect this corner of our city,” City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said Monday. “This is the worst bill we could have contemplated.”