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The drive to attract new business to Utah has (un) intended consequences

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  | July 29, 2021, 3:30 p.m. By Fred Ash | Special to The Tribune

Utah has always experienced ups and downs in the real-estate market. With natural growth there were times when available housing was not as good as could be and housing costs would go up, but then things would stabilize and prices would go back down a degree.

Recently there have been three issues commented on quite regularly: runaway housing costs; unacceptable reduction of available water; and the negative impact on the quality of life in Salt Lake County by the inland port. Each of the issues has a common cause: The Utah Legislature’s attracting many new businesses to the state through financial incentives.

But now Utah is one of or the fastest growing states in the nation due to the many new businesses, and about 45% of the new population growth has been “move-ins” from other states and nations. So many new employees and their families have moved into the state that it will be years, if ever, for there to be enough affordable housing for the average worker.

Shrinking water availability.

Utah is one of the driest states in the nation. But many of the new businesses that have come here because of the financial incentives are known to use a tremendous amount of water each day, some of them more than a million gallons of water each day.

In addition to the drop of the water table in the valley, river water that is not returned to the Great Salt Lake is magnifying problems with the shrinking lake. The drought is magnifying water problems, but with all of the new businesses, the shrinking will continue even in normal moisture years.

Part of the Legislature’s reasoning behind the financial incentives was the promise of increased revenue. But our state is still way below the national average in public education funding, and we are struggling to find sufficient revenue to cover the costs of other needed public services such as roads, health care, social services and law enforcement.

The inland port.

But there is apparently enough revenue to provide funding to establish the inland port, a little city/state on the border of Salt Lake City and Magna. And that city/state will significantly negatively impact the quality of life in the valley with increased truck traffic on our highways and more bad air.

The issues of available water, affordable housing, and the inland port city/state would not have been so critical if our legislature and our governors had not been so anxious to bring additional businesses into our state, if they had been more patient and allowed more natural growth.

Maybe what we are experiencing is just unintended consequences. But maybe not. Over the years I have learned to “follow the dollar” when trying to decide why certain legislation is proposed.

Fred Ash is legislative chair of the Utah Retired School Employees Association.

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