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Without a Utah House of Representatives committee hearing, the House passed SB248 from Rep. Mike McKell (R-Spanish Fork). As substituted, the legislation streamlines the ability for Utah counties to invest millions of dollars in an out-of-state coal port. During House debate, McKell repeatedly claimed that no taxpayer dollars would be used to build a coal port. Instead, he claimed that all the funds in Utah’s Throughput Infrastructure Fund were mineral lease royalty dollars.
These claims are false, as all funds currently in the Throughput Infrastructure Fund are sales tax dollars, funneled there from transportation funds during the infamous “shell game” of 2016.
“This is why committee hearings and public input are so important when considering legislation,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah. “Whether a blatant lie or mistaken belief, Rep. McKell made false statements on the floor regarding this bill that could not be corrected before it overwhelmingly passed. This is especially concerning because this bill directs millions of taxpayer dollars toward out-of-state coal ports that the public does not support.”
In 2016, there was an enormous public outcry over the Utah legislature’s efforts to direct $53 million to invest in the Oakland coal port project due to the belief that this money could be better spent by investing in Utah communities. Additionally, it was considered to be a violation of federal law, which requires federal mineral lease royalties to be spent on mitigating the effects of fossil fuel extraction, rather than continuing to damage those communities.
To deal with the issue, the legislature shifted Utah Community Impact Board funds. It put $53 million of mineral lease funds directly into the transportation budget for rural roads, while taking $53 million of sales tax dollars originally slated for transportation projects and depositing it in the newly created “Throughput Infrastructure Fund,” which would be managed by the CIB. These sales tax receipts can be seen by looking for the Throughput Infrastructure Fund under “enterprise funds” for the 2017 and 2018 budget years on the utah.gov/transparency/ website. And here are screenshots: