SALT LAKE CITY — In a final-hour sweep of changes and with little debate, the Utah Legislature passed a controversial bill late Wednesday that would create a board to control the development of a global trade hub in Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant — leaving city leaders little time to react to "bad public policymaking" before the bill made its way to the governor’s desk.
SB234, which would create a new governing body called the Utah Inland Port Authority to oversee the development in Salt Lake City’s last developable swath of land, passed after the House adopted changes that included reducing city seats on the board, altering boundaries and ability to provide property tax differential — all of which city officials were still scrambling to review late Wednesday.
But what city officials did know is the new bill did nothing to quell any of their concerns — and instead made "matters much worse," said David Litvack, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff.
"A whole new bill was dropped late this evening that the city was never given a copy in advance, never had a chance to review it," Litvack said.
The bill passed the House in a matter of minutes, and the Senate concurred with changes minutes later after even less debate.
"That’s not collaboration. That’s bad process. That’s bad public policymaking," Litvack said.
The new bill appears to not address the city’s land-use concerns and continues to usurp the city’s planning and zoning authority, but "it just made matters much worse," Litvack said.
"I’m not even sure where I would begin," Litvack said. "It’s that bad. It’s a complete re-write."
"I’m very disappointed," Litvack added. "Very disappointed and very concerned."
Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said in a text message late Wednesday she was "deeply troubled." She said the city had very little time to review the bill before it passed both the House and the Senate less than an hour after it was released to the public.
A coalition of environmental groups and residents from Salt Lake City’s west side held a press conference Sunday to detail their concerns over an inland port proposal floated late in the legislative session for Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant.
"This is a significantly troubling outcome that ignores the good faith effort to share city’s concerns and find a mutually acceptable compromise," Mendenhall said. "This bill goes further to usurp local government responsibilities than any ever before."
The bill’s changes appear to give the Utah Inland Port Authority taxing authority and the power to issue bonds, as well as gives West Valley City and the Utah Department of Transportation seats on the board, according to the bill’s substitute.
The changes also cut the city’s representation on the board from three members down to two— removing Biskuspki’s two board appointments leaving the city’s appointments to only the chair of the Salt Lake City Airport Advisory Board and a member of the Salt Lake City Council.
On the House floor, House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant is "ripe" for the opportunity to capitalize on its rail, trucking and proximity to the airport to be a global trade hub.
Gibson urged for support of the bill, arguing the creation of an inland port is a task too big for one city or even one county.
A whole new bill was dropped late this evening that the city was never given a copy in advance, never had a chance to review it.
–David Litvack, SLC Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff
"This is an issue that needs Salt Lake City, it needs Salt Lake County, it needs the state of Utah," Gibson said.
Only one Democrat, Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, spoke against the bill on the House floor before debate was cut off and the bill was put to a vote.
"Does the great Salt Lake City think this is a great plan for them? Probably not," Gibson said. "But I would argue the state of Utah feels like we could do more."
The bill passed 61-11 on the House floor, with all but one Democrat voting against it. In the Senate, the bill passed 20-6.
House Democrats released a statement opposing the bill shortly after the vote.
“It is important that we get this right because we are creating a platform for decades of development and infrastructure," said Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, in a statement. "This is such an important issue, and it has to be part of a larger, ongoing discussion. Most Democrats opposed this version of the bill because we should not rush through such a critical decision without more deliberate process and discussion.”