This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Mayor Ralph Becker took a lot of heat earlier this year for a sales-tax proposal tied to the potential relocation of the State Prison, but now, Salt Lake City's chief executive says the tax hike may not be needed after all.
A bill that passed in the closing hours of the 2015 legislative session, HB454, included a provision for an optional sales-tax increase for the city where a new prison is located.
The proposed sales-tax hike (up to a half cent for every $1 purchase) would apply to residents and visitors alike and was estimated to bring in tens of millions to city coffers if, indeed, the prison were relocated in Salt Lake City.
Although the mayor had discussed the tax with Prison Relocation Commission leaders, he said there was no quid pro quo that he would back a prison move to Utah's capital in exchange for the tax. Further, he said he strongly opposes a prison in Salt Lake City.
A day after the legislative session ended with the sales-tax proposal attached to the prison-relocation bill, Jackie Biskupski, a former legislator who is running against Becker for the mayor's post; state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City; and City Council Chairman Luke Garrott, who also is in the mayoral race, ripped Becker and accused him of orchestrating a payoff for accepting the prison in Salt Lake City.
Becker acknowledges that he has sought such a sales tax for years because tens of thousands of daily commuters and visitors put a strain on city services including public safety and streets without paying for them.
"It's a good tool to have in the toolbox to capture revenue from visitors," he told The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board last week.
But if the capital did ultimately get legislative authority to levy the tax, the mayor said it's doubtful he would impose it.
"At this point, I can't imagine using it," he said, reflecting on a healthy Salt Lake City economy that has seen an upswing in revenues from sales and property taxes.
The mayor's change regarding the sales tax is nothing more than election-year politics, Dabakis said Monday.
"He's feeling the heat of the mayoral election," said the senator, who, before endorsing Biskupski, jumped briefly into the mayoral race in April before hopping back out. "Ralph has always wanted that sales tax. For him to say that [he wouldn't impose it] now is blatantly political."
Further, Dabakis said, the sales tax was included in the prison legislation "in an underhanded way," without hearings and a normal legislative vetting.
"Mayor Becker said he didn't slip it in there," Dabakis said. "Then who did? These things just don't happen."
The prison and sales tax should never have been tied together, said state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.
"For me, it's not sound public policy," she said. "These are two independent issues."
She noted, however, that Salt Lake City does need to find mechanisms to offset services provided to nonresidents, such as those surrounding the homeless population and public safety.
"I don't see why he's changing his mind," she said of Becker. "It's still an issue. It's still a burden."