Herald Editorial: Residents deserve greater transparency in business deals granting multimillion dollar local tax breaks

May 20, 2019

It’s become somewhat of a trend on the western side of Utah County now.

The state attracts large businesses, with the desire for them to locate in Utah and add them to their illustrious scroll of businesses we are home to.

However, as Utah County continues to develop (and at many times fails to keep pace with the growth, causing significant infrastructure and planning problems), more large businesses continue to get massive tax breaks from local taxing entities.

The kicker here is that the public usually has no idea who these businesses are, as they are not disclosed, and therefore constituents cannot make educated moves of support or protest to the elected representatives working for them.

This week, as reported, Eagle Mountain city and Alpine School District leaders approved a Community Reinvestment Project Area for Tyson Foods, and the remaining taxing entities will be considered for approval at upcoming meetings, according to a press release.

But the public only knew the project formally as “Project Mockingbird.” Tyson will receive up to $12.3 million in tax cuts from the Alpine School District. The Alpine School District Board of Education voted on the tax cut Tuesday, prior to the name and more specific details of the business development released on Thursday.

Tyson will come with a reported 800 jobs for the meat packing plant, estimated to pay between $14.40 and $16.50 per hour. Utah’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development believes the Tyson development will bring $27 million new state tax revenue during the next 10 years.

We sure hope so.

Because this is just one of many, many financial breaks given to some of the largest companies in the country to locate to Utah County — where space and housing has already become a very expensive commodity (at which $14.50 an hour cannot afford).

Last year, local governments voted sight unseen to give Facebook more than $133 million in tax breaks to build a data center in Eagle Mountain. While the data center may offer certain benefits, it will not generate a significant number of permanent jobs.

Hopefully, Tyson will be as much of a contributing community partner as Eagle Mountain expects.

Because at this point, Alpine School District has granted at least $30-plus million dollars in tax breaks in the last two years for businesses.

And, the district is growing every year. Even as late ago as October, ASD had nearly 80,000 students. In a November article, it was reported that the district’s largest elementary school as of Oct. 1 was Brookhaven Elementary School in Eagle Mountain, which opened this fall with 1,183 students. Following it in enrollment are Black Ridge Elementary School in Eagle Mountain with 1,102 students, Sage Hills Elementary School in Saratoga Springs with 1,036 students, Dry Creek Elementary School in Lehi at 1,055 students and Eaglecrest Elementary School in Eagle Mountain with 1,017 students.

Eagle Mountain needs the tax base to pay for all of these new students. Simultaneously, insufficient education funding continues to be a top issue and complaint across the state.

These businesses could very well become assets to the communities in which they announce their new home, but we believe boards and governments should be more transparent in their plans and approvals of massive multimillion dollar tax breaks to Fortune 100 companies worth billions of dollars. This lack of transparency seems especially frustrating when voters are regularly pressured to pass bonds to pay for necessities these governing bodies, including the district, need money so desperately for — or when teachers have to pay for their own education supplies. The public should know which businesses they are paying out of their pockets to bring here.

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