On December 12th members of the Utah Legislature passed a Tax Reform bill in a special session, which was then signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Soon after a grassroots effort to overturn the bill sprung up across the state.
In order for the Tax Reform Referendum to be placed on the November ballot signatures need to be gathered from 115,869 registered voters in the state and eight percent of registered voters in 15 of 29 counties. To make the eight percent cut 2,063 registered voters in Summit County and 1,275 in Wasatch County must sign the referendum by January 21st. Coordinated efforts across all 29 counties in the state are busy working to gather signatures on the Tax Reform referendum. One of the Summit County organizers Tom Horton says those in Summit County have done a lot so far.
“Starting from scratch we have 15 to 20 volunteers out there in the County right now,” Horton said. “Collecting signatures at events, at their homes, at businesses where we’re allowed to do that. Momentum is building, but on the other hand, we are running out of time according to the legal deadlines.”
The Tax Reform bill was a result of a nearly yearlong study where legislators held public meetings and multiple discussions about how to change Utah’s tax revenue structure. Horton says he didn’t have an issue with changing Utah’s tax structure, but he is displeased with what those efforts produced.
“Watching it progress—and while I would say I didn’t really disagree with it early on—it’s morphed and evolved into something totally different than it was meant to be,” Horton explained. “So, I’m joining lot of other people including four of the candidates for governor in saying this turned out to be a bad piece of legislation and legislation needs to start over.”
Complaints against the tax reform include an increase in food tax, which some have called a regressive tax, as well as raises in gas taxes and more taxes on services. After Utah voters worked to pass three referendums during the 2018 elections, legislators responded by changing what voters passed and also making referendum efforts more difficult to place on the ballot. Horton notes the new system to get an issue on the ballot has been a challenge, starting with the fact that referendum backers have 40 days after legislation passes to get the item on the ballot.
“In those 40 days you have to, first of all, write it and get all the language, and form approved by the Lieutenant governor,” Horton continued. “Then you have to get the packets printed, which number into the many thousands and cost many thousands of dollars to print. Then you’ve got to get your organization together and out on the street. There are a bunch of really strange rules. For instance, a given packet of signatures is only active for two weeks after the first signature. After two weeks, for some reason nobody can explain, it expires and has to be turned in whether it’s full or not. Clerks have a lot of discretion on whether to accept or reject signatures. It’s difficult. It’s difficult obviously because legislators don’t like to be second-guessed.”
Although organizers of the referendum have reported to have gathered just 25% of the required signatures, Horton says that reported number is much lower than the actual number as the signatures have to be validated by county clerks. Information about where signature gathers will be each day can be found on the Facebook page Utah 2019 Tax Referendum and Utah2019Tax.com.
Read the original story at KPCW.org