From the Writers Desk: Takeover of Salt Lake Land by State Should Set off Alarms

As the 2018 General Session’s death rattle crept over Capitol Hill, something was afoot. Lobbyists from Salt Lake City had worked hard to ensure a fair outcome for the northwest quadrant. Within 32 minutes, everything changed. Like a bolt of lightning, a substituted version of SB 234 – Utah Inland Port Authority advanced in the House and was subsequently approved by the Senate. I understand the Legislature, as a governing partner, should have a prominent role in matters that involve economic development. What has happened, though, is simply beyond the pale. This is a blatant usurpation of local control.

Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant could be revolutionary for Utah’s economy, but it doesn’t change the plain and simple reality that this land belongs to the people of Salt Lake City. SB 234 enables an appointed board to commandeer almost 20,000 acres of the Capitol City’s land, thereby undercutting Salt Lake City’s land use, taxing, and zoning authority. Environmental protections are also seriously compromised. Even though they no longer control the land, Salt Lake City is still obligated to provide municipal services — and without the tax revenue to pay for said services.

In 1928, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in a dissenting opinion about the dangers of government overreach. The case, Olmstead v. the United States, involved wiretapping but it still seems relevant to the current situation. “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding,” Brandeis wrote.

Government is best when it is small, efficient, collaborative, and local decision-making remains sacrosanct (except in extreme cases). Legislators would do well to remember that. The Salt Lake City Council, Salt Lake City School District, and Salt Lake County Council are unanimous in their opposition to SB 234. In an interview with the Deseret News, Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said the bill violates core local government principles.

Every Utahn should be outraged and alarmed. Today it’s Salt Lake City, but it could easily be your city tomorrow. I urge you to contact Governor Herbert and tell him to veto this damaging piece of legislation for the good of all Utahns. Once vetoed, legislators and Salt Lake City officials should come together and craft a balanced solution that respects local control and promotes a beneficial outcome for the business community and Salt Lakers. Collaboration — with an eye toward the common good — is the Utah way. It’s what is needed to right this terrible wrong.

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