Herbert defends $100 million in additional prison funding

Gary HerbertRarely does GOP Gov. Gary Herbert chide the press, but he did so Tuesday, saying the new state prison was “always” going to cost around $650 million, and media reports that a new $100 million in bonding was, in fact, not new at all.

The $650 million “was in my” recommended budget document, released last December, said Herbert.

However, it must also be said that the last major news about the prison’s cost – now under construction just west of the Salt Lake International Airport – was in the $550 million range.

“We always thought it would be (about) $650 million,” Herbert said in his weekly meeting with reporters held during the general session, when he’s in town.

Lawmakers adjourn midnight Thursday. And Herbert had nothing but praise for how the majority Republicans and minority Democrats are doing this year.

In fact, Herbert said right now there are no bills or line item budget spending that he sees may need his veto pen.

But he will take most of the two weeks available to him after adjournment to carefully review bills and budgets, he said.

Speaking about the prison, Herbert said: “Nothing has been hidden, nothing rushed through” in a bonding package that put an extra $100 million toward the huge relocation and rebuild.

The 75-year-old prison in Draper will be abandoned, the new prison built on rather soggy ground out by the Great Salt Lake – which has been receding in recent years.

He said besides the basic budget bills he looks forward to the final passage of House Majority Leader Brad Wilson’s alcohol reform bill, HB442.

The bill will give the option to about 300 liquor-licensed restaurants to do away with the so-called Zion Curtain – the 7-foot opaque barrier that keeps patrons from seeing alcoholic drinks dispensed.

Instead of the curtain, all restaurants will have either a 10-foot area from the bar inside of which minors can’t sit, or a 6-foot area from the bar with a short wall or railing, inside of which children can’t sit.

Herbert praised GOP House and Senate leaders for tackling some tax reform this session.

As reported first Monday night in a UtahPolicy story, putting the sales tax back on unprepared food has died this session.

And the governor doesn’t necessarily regret that – reiterating that he looks forward to comprehensive state tax reform being studied over the summer and the 2018 Legislature taking action on it.

So far, however, besides saying legislators should take a look at reforming or removing sales and income tax exemptions that are out of date, Herbert has not himself made any concrete tax reform recommendations.

Herbert did say the effort by Our Schools Now backers – who want to put before voters in 2018 an income tax hike – should go forward.

He opposes OSN’s petition. But the effort is an appropriate one – for it will see where citizens are on the issues of more money for public schools, something he does support.

First, he said, we’ll see if OSN can get around 120,000 required voter signatures.

Then we’ll see if the effort can pass on the ballot.

He said he doesn’t see a conflict with what he and lawmakers will do in the 2018 session on tax reform and the petition.

The petition – which now would raise the personal income tax rate from 5 percent to 5.875 percent and bring in $175 million more annually for schools – would just be another alternative before citizens, he said.

However, Herbert pointed out that 80 percent of new state revenues are going to public or higher education. And that is a good effort, he added.