Bill Subsidizing NSA Data Center Stirs Debate in Senate

(KCPW News) If there’s anything legislators don’t like, it’s other people making decisions without telling them.

On Tuesday, some senators felt like that basically had happened. When Republican Senator Jerry Stevenson presented SB 45 for its second reading on the Senate floor, some senators scoffed at an eight-line section of an otherwise dry piece of legislation.

What did those eight lines say? Well, back when Jon Huntsman was governor of Utah (and current Governor Gary Herbert was lieutenant governor), negotiations were still underway to bring the NSA Data Center to Utah, and, according to Stevenson, one of the promises made to the federal government by Huntsman’s team was that the new facility would be exempt from the Military Installation Development Authority, or MIDA, energy tax. Stevenson said he’s simply adhering to that commitment made by the governor’s office.

“I feel like, through a year of negotiations, we’ve gotten to that point, and those lines were part of the impetus of the bill,” Stevenson said. “I think it’s important that we stick with the commitment that we made.”

According to Stevenson, the NSA facility would avoid $6 million annually in utility taxes. Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis is opposed to SB 45’s tax breaks, and one of his concerns was that the agreement not to charge the MIDA energy tax seems to be an informal one.

“I’ve asked, and I have not been able to be provided with a piece of paper that says, ‘Here’s a commitment that the state of Utah makes that you won’t have to pay the utility tax,’” said Dabakis.

Republican Senator Margaret Dayton shared similar concerns, and said she will only support the bill if those eight lines are removed.

“I think that is a major concern, that we have this huge project, and it’s not creating jobs. It’s creating a lot of consternation in my area. And then we’re saying that we’re going to waive their energy tax,” Dayton said. “That seems like that should be a legislative decision if the energy tax is going to be there. It wasn’t something that was discussed with the legislature that I’m aware of.”

Republican Senator Wayne Harper was also peeved by the energy tax agreement, but he put it a little more bluntly.

“I don’t remember that I made any commitments to giving tax subsidies to a spy center, so I cannot support this bill as long as that section remains in it,” Harper said.

Senator Stevenson, the bill’s sponsor, seemed unwilling to remove the energy tax exemption from his bill, saying he would like to honor the agreement made by Governor Huntsman’s administration and the federal government.

The bill will be brought back for a third reading, but support for the bill with those eight lines in tact might be difficult to procure.

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