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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard speaks in the Senate as members of Utah's legislature gather Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City for a special session to vote on moving the Utah State prison from Draper to the west side of Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would take away Salt Lake City's ability to raise sales taxes to help offset costs associated with the relocation of the state prison was approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

"It's kind of like a loaded gun sitting there," Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, told members of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. He is the sponsor of SB180.

Hillyard said being able to add up to half a cent to Salt Lake's current 6.85 percent tax rate would "make the sales tax really an unbearable amount," especially combined with the potential for another local sales tax increase for transportation needs.

The option was added late in the session last year to legislation dealing with moving the Utah State Prison from Point of the Mountain in Draper. A site west of the Salt Lake City International Airport was later selected for the $550 million facility.

During last year's race for Salt Lake City mayor, then-Mayor Ralph Becker denied accusations by now-Mayor Jackie Biskupski that he struck a secret deal with lawmakers for a long-sought local option to raise sales taxes.

Hillyard noted that during the race, both candidates said they didn't ask for the taxing option. Now, he said, it's seen as a way to tax commuters and others who come to Salt Lake City as well as help pay for costs associated with the stated-funded prison.

David Litvack, deputy chief of staff to Biskupski, told the committee that while the city has no plans to utilize the option, it "may or may not be necessary to mitigate the impact" of relocating the prison from Draper.

Another former Salt Lake City candidate for mayor, George Chapman, testified that the tax increase is not needed. He said the option "didn't make sense and it also made Salt Lake City look bad."

The committee voted 3-0 to send the bill to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.

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