Bill Would Nix Tax Breaks for Utah NSA Facility

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

No longer pleased with having the federal government’s major metadata-gathering facility in Utah, a state legislator has just introduced a bill that would prevent the state, local governments, or local utilities from giving the huge building any kind of tax or fee break — or in fact having much to do with it at all.

 

“It is a matter of the 4th Amendment – our rights of unreasonable search of our persons, possessions or documents,” said a clearly displeased Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin.

Interestingly enough, HB161 appears in direct opposition to SB45, a bill which, among other things, recognizes a promise made to bosses of the NSA metadata facility, located on the Point of the Mountain between Utah and Salt Lake counties, that it will not have to pay local government franchise taxes.

That huge data center uses one heck of a lot of electricity – thousands of servers searching billions of data points every day.

SB45 sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy Tuesday that his bill would keep the status quo of local governments, they can’t assess their normal utility franchise tax on the NSA operation – a $6 million tax break every year.

Military owned property in Utah doesn’t pay franchise taxes now, and haven’t ever, said Stevenson.

Certainly those local governments could use that money.

But, said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, “Why are we giving that tax break to the federal government?”

Stevenson said it was a promise made by former Utah governors in order to get the huge data center located in Utah.

In any case, Roberts said if he could, he would force the data center to move out of Utah.

“Some of us worried about what it would be doing,” when it was first announced that the National Security Administration became interested in the old Camp Williams property.

“But only later did we learn what they were really doing,” said Roberts. By then it was too late, he said.

But in any case, no state, local government, water or electrical entities should be giving tax breaks to the NSA facility.

Stevenson uncircled his bill Tuesday morning and it passed 23-4.

Stevenson said he’d just heard of Roberts’ bill.

“I suppose (local governments) could send (the NSA) a franchise tax bill,” said Stevenson. “They won’t pay it, because they don’t have to.”

As of Tuesday, 13 other states were moving legislation similar to HB161, said Roberts.

More and more states don’t want federal facilities whose basic job it is to spy on Americans – although NSA officials say that is a great simplification of their work.

Roberts said model legislation is being pushed by several groups concerned about constitutional rights and what the NSA is doing, like offnow.org and the Tenth Amendment Center.

“We did help get” the NSA building here, said Roberts. And that turned out to be a mistake, he believes.

The huge tax and fee subsidies basically “bought” Utah around only 200 jobs – the full-time workforce at the NSA center.

“And those are high tech jobs, and we have plenty of those already in Utah,” he added.

Ironically, it was through Edward Snowden’s leaking of massive amounts NSA materials that led to the world learning much of what NSA metadata gathering was, and is, doing.

Some consider Snowden, a former NSA contractor, a hero, many more a traitor. He is currently hiding out in Russia – as various media organizations, including the New York Times, continue to run stories on his leaks.

“We don’t know what they are storing down there” in the NSA facility, “nor how long they are storing it,” said Roberts.

“But we do know a lot more now than before” when Utah officials were wooing NSA officials.

Roberts’ bill says: “a political subdivision of this state, or an employee or elected official of a political subdivision acting in the official's or employee's official capacity, may not:

 (a) provide material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection andsurveillance agency;

 (b) use any assets, state funds, or funds allocated by the state or a local entity, in whole or in part, to engage in any activity that aids a federal data collection and surveillance agency;

(c) provide services or assist in any way with the provision of services to a federal datacollection and surveillance agency.”

“We need to turn off the tax breaks,” said Roberts. “We need to fight back against the (intrusive) federal government.”

Any state or local official who violates Roberts’ bill will lose the right to get any state funds in any way or shape.

Roberts added: “This is a states’ right, a states’ sovereignty issue.”

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