Most Utahns do not agree that a new $550-million prison should be built near the Salt Lake City airport, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.
In August, perhaps feeling they were never going to get most Utahns to agree with them on moving the state prison from Draper, GOP legislators, with a few Democrats, and Gov. Gary Herbert formally picked the airport site for the new prison.
But pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds in a new survey that 46 percent of Utahns want the prison to stay in Draper – either as is or with a new facility being built on the 700 state-owned acres there.
Only 31 percent – less than one-third – say the prison should be moved, and the Salt Lake City site is the best place now.
UtahPolicy polling by Jones for over a year has shown that Utahns are split over spending all that money and moving the prison – which has sat at the Point of the Mountain since 1952.
Millions of dollars have been spent by the state on consultants and other specialists’ work on where the prison should go.
A legislative committee finally adopted the Salt Lake City site from among four finalists – and it immediately became political.
For the city site is in only Democratic House and Senate districts and is in the biggest Democratic city in the state.
Soils are unstable on the site, and it will take upwards of $100 million extra to build there. And depending on where exactly prison buildings are located, a nearby old landfill could pose problems.
But Herbert, a Republican, and the Republican majority in the House and Senate chose to move ahead with it – and in a special session – all aimed at just getting this decision made and moved ahead.
Jones' new poll shows state leaders are advancing without the support of most of Utahns.
Some poll numbers:
15 percent of all Utahns said the prison should stay at Draper and not even be rebuilt – just keep it as it is.
31 percent said the prison should be rebuilt, but rebuilt on the Draper site.
Together, those two numbers show that 46 percent of Utahns don’t want the prison moved from Draper.
13 percent said the prison should be moved from Draper, but not relocated at the Salt Lake site, but somewhere else.
31 percent agree with the Legislature’s decision to move the prison from Draper and build a new facility by the airport.
2 percent mentioned some other alternative.
And 9 percent didn’t know.
That 9 percent is a pretty small number, which shows Utahns are aware of the prison relocation debate and have an opinion on it.
Now, the legislators voting for the move believe the Salt Lake site is the best alternative now, and that down the road it is a wise and prudent action.
But it is also a politically smart move.
For forcing the prison into a Democratic area won’t endanger any GOP legislative seats in the 2016 elections.
Opposition by local elected officials and residents to all four finalist sites was profound – meaning a sitting House or Senate member could be vulnerable at re-election time.
But even when you break out the poll results by partisan leanings, GOP legislators and Herbert don’t have a majority of their party members behind them.
Among those who told Jones they are Republicans:
14 percent say keep the prison as is in Draper, don’t rebuild at all.
25 percent say rebuild the prison at Draper.
So together 39 percent of Republicans say don’t move the prison from Draper.
10 percent say move the prison, but not to the Salt Lake site.
39 percent support the governor and Legislature, saying move it near the airport.
2 percent preferred another alternative.
And 9 percent didn’t know.
Democrats are really against the new prison relocation plan: 20 percent said don’t move the prison, don’t rebuild; 40 percent said rebuild at Draper; 20 percent said move, but not to Salt Lake; only 16 percent agree with Herbert and the GOP Legislature, move to Salt Lake site; 1 percent said something else; and only 2 percent didn’t know.
Political independents also are not with Herbert and lawmakers: 15 percent say don’t move, don’t rebuild; 40 percent rebuild at Draper; 13 percent move, but not to Salt Lake site; 24 percent agree with legislators; 2 percent said something else; and 11 percent don’t know.
With the decision made – and with most Utahns not agreeing with it – now comes the difficult task of actually rebuilding the prison on unstable soils (which could require 10-story-deep footings), bring the project in or under budget and within promised time lines.
It’s unlikely any GOP legislators could lose their seats over prison relocation – it just won’t be that critical an issue come the 2016 election.
But if major problems come with the Salt Lake City airport site, then Herbert and legislators may well see the dissatisfaction reflected in the new Jones’ poll coming back to haunt them.