Local government leaders may have to consider the impacts of their projects on private businesses.
Legislation that was approved by the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee Wednesday would require cities and counties to create a commission where businesses could appeal the operations of publicly funded projects that compete with them, including golf courses, reception halls and recreation centers.
As written, the bill gives the commissions the power to prohibit cities and counties from pursuing projects if they would compete with services already being provided privately. The commissions would be appointed by local governments, which is a step down from the original intent, which would have created a state commission with what amounts to veto power over the local governments.
Most likely, the bill will be amended during the general session to make the commissions more advisory, much like a planning commission. A similar commission would be created on the state level to address issues with state agencies, although it would also be advisory for the Legislature.
Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley, said he had concerns about giving the commissions anything beyond advisory power. By way of example, he pointed to universities, which have everything from sports and entertainment to food service that could be criticized as competing with private business.
"This bill goes too far on restricting local government and higher education," he said. "It goes way too far in trying to privatize everything instead of looking at one thing at a time."
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said that he would support changes to leave the final decision with locally elected officials. But he emphasized that the main purpose was to make sure that a local government could not harm the private sector with its ventures, which have built-in advantages because of their tax-exempt status and the ability to cover shortfalls with taxpayer money.
The commissions would help protect the private sector from unfair and inappropriate competition from the public sector, Stephenson said. "It is high time we have this in place."
Roger Tew, a lobbyist for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said that the group would oppose anything that took power away from the elected officials of municipalities. He was fine with a commission that could advise the elected officials, even if he "questioned the wisdom" of such a commission."To a certain degree, the decision over what services are provided to a local community is why we elect local officials," he said. But creating "another body with power that supersedes your local officials presents a challenge."