As the Utah Legislature gathers for its annual session, it is time to recall that four years ago the Legislature, under the leadership of Greg Hughes, created the Inland Port by voting – with very little discussion – to seize 25 square miles of Salt Lake City and portions of two adjacent neighboring communities. The Legislature imposed absolute sovereignty upon this one-quarter of the land area of Salt Lake City, mandating that final authority on disputed matters between the state and the cities would be resolved in favor of the port, as vested in a board appointed by the governor.
A very important part of the 2018 legislation concerned taxes, with the provision that most of the new taxes would go to the state through the port rather than to the big loser in this game, Salt Lake City. It was little wonder that the mayor of Salt Lake City and the City Council objected to the arrogant and unlawful actions of the Legislature, and filed suit against the state of Utah.
The suit filed by the city has languished in the judicial process over these four years. A decision by the Third Judicial Court in January 2020 ruled in favor of the creation of the port, even though it is abundantly clear that the Legislature violated Article VI, Section 2, of the Utah State Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from interfering with municipal functions, taxation and other authority through a commission or corporation.
This suit was appealed by the city and oral arguments were heard before the Utah Supreme Court in April 2021, as another year passed by. Now here we are in January 2022 without a ruling or an injunction from the Court. Why should it take nine months – and counting – to issue a decision on a matter so obvious and so important?
Meanwhile, the Inland Port has been very busy creating facts on the ground without any kind of environmental studies or determination of water requirements. Warehouses are under construction, and Salt Lake City taxpayers have been forced to subsidize and guarantee revenue bonds for further activities that benefit private developers. Dialogue with leaders of the port reveals very little about their intentions and fiscal accountability. Their quarterly “public meetings” are an absolute joke.
The Inland Port is a rogue operation of dubious legal standing. It prioritizes economic development over the health of our citizens. As the Legislature meets next week, surely there will be those men and women, I hope, who have the courage to stand up for what is right.
James King, Salt Lake City