Did SLC trade prison for sales tax hike?

Posted at 4:22 PM, Aug 12, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- Senator Jim Dabakis is accusing city leaders of crafting a secret deal to get a sales tax hike in exchange for putting the Utah State Prison on the city's west side.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday, Sen. Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, made the claim in response to the Prison Relocation Commission's choice to put the prison near I-80 and 7200 West.

"Here's what I'm saying: the city, without talking to anybody in the Salt Lake delegation in the legislature, secretly negotiated a deal that if Salt Lake gets the prison, it will have the option to get a local tax increase, something they've been trying to do for a long, long time," he said.

Protesters at a prison relocation meeting in June. Photo by Todd Tanner, FOX 13 News

Protesters at a prison relocation meeting in June. Photo by Todd Tanner, FOX 13 News

In response, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called Dabakis' comments "irresponsible." He insisted there was no deal to get a sales tax option in exchange for putting the prison in Salt Lake City.

"As mayor, I look out for what is in the best interests of Salt Lake City and I’m simply not going to negotiate about an issue like the locating the prison," Becker told FOX 13. "It was non-negotiable in my discussions with the chairs of the Prison Relocation Commission."

Sen. Dabakis said he believed the city did broker a deal.

"He's saying he didn't push it, but somebody pushed it and the city is careful to keep it quiet about who's pushing it," he said.

"People can fabricate whatever story they want to serve their needs, but that’s not either what I said or what I did," Becker told FOX 13 in response.

The issue has also been raised by two of Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's challengers. In separate statements on the Prison Relocation Commission's decision, candidates Jackie Biskupski and Luke Garrott suggested there was a "backroom deal."

"I support taking legal action to block the prison move and if Ralph is serious about stopping the prison, and hasn’t made a backroom deal to the contrary, we expect his immediate support of the lawsuit," said Garrott, who is also on the Salt Lake City Council.

"Our west side has been ignored by this administration, so it should come as no surprise that Mayor Becker would sell them out in his negotiations for a sales tax in this city," said Biskupski in her statement.

For years, Salt Lake City has sought a sales tax increase arguing that it pays for services for people who don't live in the city. The tax was added on the final day of the legislature to a bill that enabled the prison to be relocated.

However, Prison Relocation Commission Co-Chair Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, called claims that Becker or others from the city negotiated in secret to trade the tax option for a prison "an absolute falsehood."

"There was never any discussion about that," Sen. Stevenson said Wednesday. "I never met with Mayor Becker that he didn’t tell us he would oppose a prison going to Salt Lake City."

The senator said the Prison Relocation Commission floated the idea of the local option sales tax for whatever community got the prison and got approval on the last day of the session from both Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Utah State Legislature.

The legislature could meet as early as next week in special session to vote on the recommended site.