Lawmakers Commit $ 75 Million to State “Bank” to Fund Utah Inner Port

SALT LAKE CITY – Just a week away from the 2021 session of the state legislature, lawmakers have scrapped a big bill that could have major implications for the Utah Inner Port Authority.

House lawmakers, while finalizing the state budget, announced on Friday that a large sum of money – $ 75 million – would be set aside in a state “bank” newly created that could be used to finance loans for the port authority.

SB243 is creating what House Majority Leader Francis Gibson R-Mapleton has called “infrastructure banks” that could store state money to use as loans for future projects. The bill would also create a loan fund for the Point of the Mountain area, which is expected to undergo massive development when Utah State Prison is relocated, but Gibson said the 75 million dollars set aside this year would go specifically to the Utah Inner Port Authority project. areas.

“As a project begins, (cities and counties) have the possibility to apply for a loan of money from the State or from this fund, then to repay it thanks to the revenue generated by projects in different areas, “Gibson told reporters on Friday.

The state budget with that funding included is due to be unveiled later Friday at a meeting of the appropriations executive committee scheduled for 5 p.m.

“These are loans,” Gibson said. “They are reimbursed. And there has to be a local game. And so the communities and counties that are doing that … they’re also putting their own money into that. ”

The Utah Inland Port Authority, created by the legislature with a view to maximizing the state’s imports and exports, aims to spur the expansion of infrastructure, especially for railways, trucks and facilities. translation.

Considered as a “hub-and-spoke” model, state leaders want the Utah Port Authority to be based in the area of ​​its current Salt Lake City project – the whose creation sparked controversy and one legal battle that has now been going on for years with the Salt Lake City rulers – while also having “departments” in rural areas which also increase exports there, a concept that plagues rural counties hungry for job growth.

Heads of state came up with the $ 75 million figure because they wanted a large enough fund for projects not only along the Wasatch front but also in rural Utah, Gibson said.

“It’s a lot of money,” he admitted in an interview with Deseret News. “But I think if you live in rural Utah, (you think) the 900-pound gorilla that eats everything is the Wasatch Front. So, could there be some projects on the Wasatch Front and the area? of Salt Lake? Absolutely. But there should still be a significant amount of money for the rural communities in the state to know, “I can still have access to a project to get our product out of here.” ie exported. ”

Friday marked the first time lawmakers have publicly revealed that they plan to create “infrastructure banking” legislation and arrived at the $ 75 million figure.

Anticipating the pushback from anti-inland port activists, Gibson admitted, “They won’t be happy. “

“And that’s OK,” he said. “I appreciate their passion.

As a member of the port authority’s board of directors, Gibson said he had worked with its executive director, Jack Hedge, to “discuss how we are minimizing damage to air quality and Pollution. We are committed to this.

“I think you will see some movement for electrification and other things at the Salt Lake Inner Port site to be able to provide more electrical options as opposed to oil and gas or type things. traditionally dirty diesel, ”Gibson said. . “We will see that move forward.”

Gibson added, “To those critics who say, ‘This Inner Harbor, I don’t want it.’ Initially, they didn’t want it because they thought it was Salt Lake. And as we’ve had more and more people wanting the Racks to join us, now critics have said we don’t want everything. Well, the people of rural Utah who live there are very anxious to have something in their local economy that allows them to create jobs, they can continue to export the products they are already creating.

House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, backed the money for inland port “infrastructure banks” and what he said it would mean for rural Utah, as well as the Salt Lake Valley.

“This investment is great for people who don’t want it,” said Schultz. “We’re going to have to expand it and expand it and not focus everything on Salt Lake… I love the hub-and-spoke model. And once you’ve spent that $ 75 million across the region and across the state, yes, it’s not that much. ”

Deeda Seed, an activist with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead organizer of Stop the Polluting Port, said on Friday she had heard rumors about the possibility that lawmakers are putting money aside for project areas, but she has first learned of the amount of $ 75 million when contacted by Deseret News.

“First of all, what’s troubling about this is that we get the news from the media and not from the decision-makers,” Seed said. “There has been absolutely no public discussion about it, and you know, it’s a terrible, terrible idea to spend taxpayer dollars when there is no plan.”

In a text message, Seed called it an “Inland Pork Fund” concocted behind closed doors, to be managed by six insiders giving senior loans at low interest rates to a few private companies. There is no plan, it is all speculative and a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars. “

Seed noted that no other Utah Inner Port Authority project area has been created other than Salt Lake City.

“So this allocates $ 75 million to support a speculative project that has no discernible evidence of a benefit to any of these communities. It’s a waste, ”Seed said. “What are the parameters that surround it? … Why would you want to set aside $ 75 million for something with taxpayer money when you have no idea what it’s going to be? “

To Gibson’s arguments that the money could help rural communities, Seed said inland ports are “essentially giant transshipment facilities of one kind or another, and they can be very disruptive to communities,” even rural communities “.

“Why not wait until there is a plan?” Seed asked. “Honestly, it appears to be spending on barrels of pork and some kind of gesture towards rural Utah. But, you know, it could end up hurting those communities, frankly, depending on what’s being built. ”

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