During a news conference at the Utah State Capitol Tuesday, Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) and Speaker Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) presented ideas to break the gridlock regarding Salt Lake City’s inland port — and west-side legislators aren’t too thrilled with Dabakis because of it.
Representative Sandra Hollins (Democrat – Salt Lake City) said she and her colleagues were “blindsided” by Dabakis and Hughes. “It is my constituents who will be directly impacted by the Inland Port, but they didn’t include us in any of these conversations. The overall impact this will have on the surrounding neighborhoods, the traffic, the air quality, and our quality of life regionally will be significant. We agree that an Inland Port is an important opportunity for our state. But sadly, this distracts from a healthy and robust public process.”
According to Hughes, he and Dabakis started having discussions about the matter following an appearance on a Sunday morning talk show where they argued over the inland port. “What I think both of us realized is that [with] any good public policy you’ve got to find common ground, you’ve got to find overlap. My colleagues will be tired of hearing it, but you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” said Hughes. “If no one speaks, if no one talks, if there isn’t any kind of collaboration, you could see lawsuits, you could see delays, you could see the costs to the taxpayers, you could see a downside to the process that has begun.”
Dabakis’ “demands,” as Hughes put them, include adjusting the port authority’s power over land use by allowing Salt Lake City to continue with its normal planning process for six months before it switches over to the inland port board; excluding all wetlands located on the northern side of the project area from the port’s jurisdiction; specifying that 2 percent of the project area’s tax increment will be set aside for the board’s administrative costs and 10 percent would go toward affordable housing; physically cover all coal as it’s being transported and stored to reduce particulate pollution; and a specific guarantee that the Salt Lake City International Airport will never be included in the port’s authority and remain under the governing authority of Salt Lake City.
In regard to the inland port’s tax-and-spend authority, Dabakis and Hughes propose that the port authority control around 75 percent of it, while other local entities within in the boundaries collecting the remaining 25 percent. “If we’re going to find solutions, personalities aside, am I supposed to call everybody to get them all at the table?,” said Dabakis. “This is not policy — this is our idea, and let it be in the marketplace of ideas as we go.”
Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City) decried the lack of transparency and questioned why Dabakis and Hughes held a media event rather than negotiating directly with Salt Lake City. “The elected leaders representing the Northwest Quadrant have been repeatedly shut out of the process. The process has not been transparent. We appreciate that they are willing to come together and work on this. But why a press conference for show? Why not work with their colleagues and with the City? Part of compromise is bringing more than two people together,” said Romero.
Senator Luz Escamilla (Democrat – Salt Lake City) called Dabakis’ actions “hypocritical.” “I am disappointed to see a Senator from our own caucus who has consistently complained about backroom deals to now be doing the same thing. How does he expect people to trust him? It’s hypocritical,” said Escamilla.
Questioned by reporters about whether or not the inland port issue is being used by them to further their political careers, both issued denials. “In terms of other runs and interests, it is not related to this at all,” said Hughes, who is reportedly eyeing a bid for governor in 2020. “If I was going to run for mayor, I would run away from this issue, believe me!,” said Dabakis, who has been long-rumored as a Salt Lake City mayoral candidate in 2019.
“This is a serious discussion that will impact our future. We are moving forward, and we will fix this. But that will only happen if we’re inclusive and talking to each other,” Escamilla concluded.