By: Veronica Harper
Last week I touched on special districts, what they are and the high number of them in our state. Buckle up, as this ride just keeps getting wilder with each article.
I wanted to discuss how, with each bill passed, the noose gets tighter and tighter around the necks of Utah citizens. Transparency in this state is like a blackout curtain. It is getting harder and harder for Utahns to have confidence in their representatives and yet we are still too trusting. We have faith that they will do the right thing. While some work diligently on behalf of the people, there are some who leave us to wonder if they have our best interests at heart. However, things are changing in our great state. People are becoming more involved and communicating with their representatives on a regular basis. Utahns have a duty and responsibility to ensure our elected officials are acting on behalf of their constituents. Special districts take control from the people and place power in often unelected officials. If they do have an election, it is often unknown to the public. If they are unelected or their elections are unknown, who do they answer to? I’d argue it is not the people.
Special districts will eventually be the cord that will bind all Utahns if we do not push back against these unconstitutional developments. I questioned why our legislators are enacting bills that would create special districts that run contrary to our state constitution. I keep coming back to the same conclusion, and that is power, control, and money. When you have 28 different bills (that we know of), initiatives, and resolutions pertaining to local district amendments, public infrastructure, independent special districts, etc., it is hard to see how they all tie together.
Disclaimer: Some of the issues with the port were prior to our current Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) board and the current director of the board taking over. The current director has been diligently working to correct some issues and Utahns are appreciative of the effort.
Take for instance, the Utah Inland Port Authority, it may not be something you specifically think about, but the Utah Inland Port Authority has connections to Utah’s railways. Makes perfect sense, yes, but would you be actively monitoring bills related to Utah’s railways if you weren’t specifically aware of how the two tie together? If you look at HB51, Railroad Right Of Way Amendments, a small bill respectively, with only 89 lines, lines 35-41 define government entity,
“means the state or a county, city, town metro, township, local district, or special service district. Railroad means a rail carrier that is a Class I railroad, as classified by the federal Surface Transportation Board. Railroad does not include a rail carrier that is: exempt from assessment under 49 U.S.C. Sec. 24301; or owned by a government entity.”
The Utah Inland Port Authority is a special service district, meaning, they are a government entity and government entities can tax the people. What is different in this case is because they are a special district, they are not accountable to the people. That should concern every Utah citizen, regardless of political affiliation.
Another interesting twist, Union Pacific Railroad (UP) is considered a Class I railroad, which means their revenue is greater than $250 million per year. As of 2013, Union Pacific’s fair market value was determined by the courts to be $340,719,960. “Union Pacific is also the “dominant freight rail owner in Utah.”
As I was reading HB51, my interpretation, regarding the taxing process, would allow the UIPA to pass whatever tax imposed upon them by the Union Pacific railroad to the citizens of Utah. It would allow the port a way to tax the people without being held accountable to the people. This could mean the port could tax the people for the use of the railroad even if the railroad was exempt from assessment and does not have to pay tax. On the other hand, one could argue that the legislature might have been attempting to provide more oversight to ensure the UIPA was not overstepping their boundaries. Whether this interpretation is correct or not, it is worthy of further discussion and clarification.
As I stated in my previous article, https://utahfreedomcoalition.org/shadow-government-feature-part-1/, the Utah Inland Port Authority is considered a government entity because they are a Special Service District. And because they are a Special Service District, they can tax the people without the people having a say in the matter. If I am sounding repetitive, it is on purpose. I want the reader to really understand the severity of this issue. As I mentioned above, the current board director has been diligently working to correct some issues, but he needs continued support and input from the people.
Turning your attention now to the new development, The Point. This development project is made possible by the passing of HB372, Point Of The Mountain State Land Authority. The bill was passed in 2018 when most of us were unaware of the dangers of special districts.
Title 17B. Limited Purpose Local Government Entities – Special Districts, 17B-1-103.
A special district is:
a body corporate and politic with perpetual succession;
a quasi-municipal corporation; and
a political subdivision of the state; and
may sue and be sued.
Combined, this allows special districts to act as their own authority as evidenced in the bill;
The bill further states that;
102 (1) There is created the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority.
103 (2) The authority is:
104 (a) an independent, nonprofit, separate body corporate and politic, with perpetual
105 succession, whose purpose is to facilitate the development of state land;
106 (b) a political subdivision of the state; and
107 (c) a public corporation, as defined in Section 63E-1-102
The authority has a very broad scope of powers, some of which are the ability to;
128 (4) enter into contracts generally;
129 (5) buy, obtain an option upon, or otherwise acquire any interest in real or personal
130 property, as necessary to accomplish the duties and responsibilities of the authority, including
131 an interest in real property, apart from point of the mountain state land, or personal property,
132 outside point of the mountain state land, for publicly owned infrastructure and improvements,
133 if the board considers the purchase, option, or other interest acquisition to be necessary for
134 fulfilling the authority’s development objectives;
The way the language is written is extremely concerning. Does this allow for the taking of private property for the greater good? Where does the public voice come in to play here?
When you couple the wording in HB372 and Title 17B-1-103 which says;
A special district may:
acquire, by any lawful means, or lease any real property, personal property, or a groundwater right necessary or convenient to the full exercise of the district’s powers;
acquire, by any lawful means, any interest in real property, personal property, or a groundwater right necessary or convenient to the full exercise of the district’s powers;
you can see how concerning this is for private homeowners and the public in general. Why would our legislators give these land developers, who are not elected officials, so much power?
A public official, asking to remain anonymous, was willing to address my question concerning Title 17B-1-13 and its wording in relation to the taking of personal property. The source said they believed our concerns were correct and that local special districts would have the capability of taking personal property.
I would encourage everyone to email their representatives and ask them if the wording in the code allows for the taking of our property. Ask for clarification as you are trying to understand the language in the code. It will open dialogue between you and your representative and shed some light on the subject. I would also ask how bills like this could be considered constitutional and have them explain why it is or is not constitutional. It is a conversation worthy of having.