SALT LAKE CITY — The House GOP caucus voted Thursday to support moving the Utah State Prison from Draper after members were assured they're not being asked yet to choose a new site or come up with funding.
But at least three representatives of the majority party still voted against endorsing a pair of resolutions, HCR8 and HJR19, on the issue sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, a member of the state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority.
"We've studied this ridiculously long," Wilson said, citing a report distributed to the caucus nearly two weeks ago after members asked then for more time to consider whether the move is a good idea.
"The report is very clear this is a win," he said, for the state Department of Corrections, inmates and taxpayers. "There really are no losers here. We can get mired in the how and when."
The report commissioned by the authority concluded that the net cost of relocating the prison would be $102 million taken into account the value of the Point of the Mountain property and cost of maintaining the Draper prison over the next 20 years.
"I don't know if we're convincing anyone with that," Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, said of the study, noting his constituents are asking him why the problems associated with the aging Draper prison can't just be fixed.
Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, said while he was glad the study had been done, he still wonders why the prison shouldn't stay put. "I'd rather not take a caucus position today."
While Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, made no comment during the caucus, he voted against supporting the move.
"I have a lot of constituents who work at the prison. I actually have constituents who have family at the prison," Lifferth said after the meeting, questioning the cost of relocating the facility.
"I think that the move, it's got to be better financially justified. I don't want any burden to be put on the taxpayers for this. I think it will definitely benefit people in that area," he said. "But I need to see a more methodical process."
Lifferth said more work needs to be done on the project, expected to free up nearly 700 acres of prime property for development.
"I don't think it's being rushed," he said. "I actually think at the end of the day, we probably do need to move the prison. But we need to do it the right way. Development has to pay for this development and not be subsidized by taxpayers."
One of the caucus members who asked for time to study the report when the issue was first raised, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said he discovered that significant money needs to be invested in the prison no matter where it's located.
"I call these 'anyway' dollars," Christensen told the caucus. "You're going to spend them no matter what."
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said the resolution addresses the issues surrounding the move, including ensuring a new location would meet the needs of the prison staff and volunteers.
"At this point, it really becomes a matter of proper education and messaging so we’re not hurting ourselves," Stratton told the caucus.
Wilson said he wasn't asking for lawmakers to make any decisions about the specifics of a move:
"You’re not expending money today. You’re not selecting a location today," Wilson said. "You’re changing the dialogue from, 'Are we moving the prison' to how and when" it's relocated.
Another member of the authority, Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, warned that the prison system, which includes another facility at Gunnison and contracted space in county jails, is rapidly reaching capacity.
"We'll be sending people home the first quarter of 2017," Hutchings said, unless action is taken to boost the number of beds available. "We’re in the intersection we’ve got to turn or we’re going to get run over."
Wilson told reporters later he would move on additional legislation related to the move if his resolutions are approved. The authority, which recommended lawmakers take action this session, needs authorization to continue.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she agrees the prison needs to be moved but said approving the resolutions did not bind future legislatures. Senate Republicans have yet to take a position on the move.