Utah 2019 Tax Referendum: The Winners and Losers
We the People who
exercised our right to veto a legislative action that vast majority of Utahns understood
to be ill conceived and to do more harm than good.
Thousands of citizen volunteers
who came together through social media, donated money to pay for the printing
of referendum packets, put political and other differences aside, stood
side-by-side for hours witnessing signatures and gave up their holidays in
order to gather over 180,000 signatures in record time.
Civility and mutual
respect was given a huge boost by the referendum which brought Utahns
across the political spectrum together in a common cause. By working together, Utahns
learned that there is much more that unites us than divides us.
The five Utahns who
filed the referendum petition—Former state Representative Fred Cox, Darcy
Van Orden of Utah Justice Coalition, Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger,
Jeffrey C. White, and Judy Rohner.
Bob Harmon and
Harmons’ Board along with all of Harmons’ employees who welcomed the
volunteers collecting signatures into their stores despite strong criticism
from Utah’s governor.
Foods stores who stood with the citizens while most businesses were taking
a neutral position on the referendum or actively opposing it through their
lobbyists and associations.
Small business owners
throughout the state who collected signatures and who opened their doors to
volunteers, especially during the early days of signature gathering when the
effort was attempting to gain traction.
which demonstrated its power by providing the key platform for organizing and
communicating especially when supplemented by other internet applications.
Vote.Utah.Gov and the
Veti App which permitted rapid confirmation of voter registration
information and ensured that the signatures turned in would not be rejected.
by purchasing the entire Utah voter registration data base and posting it to
the internet, made it easy for individuals who decided to walk their
neighborhoods. Voterrecord.com shows everyone who is registered to vote unless
they have made their voter registration private, their address and their party
affiliation. When one person on a street is identified it allows the user to
see everyone who is registered to vote on that street.
who unanimously voted against the bill.
The 11 Republican House members and 2 Republican Senators who voted against the bill
thereby denying it the two-thirds majority that would have made it referendum
Republican elected officials who took referendum packets and joined their
constituents in witnessing signatures.
gubernatorial candidates who signed the referendum petition—Aimee Winder
Newton, Jeff Burningham, Jon Huntsman and Jason Christensen.
Primary Out which encourages Democrats to vote in Republican primaries since
there will be primaries to intervene in as Republicans who voted for the tax
reform bill pick up more primary challengers than otherwise would have been the
Utah Drivers License
Division since people were made aware of the fact that the address on their
drivers license had not been updated when they signed the petition. Perhaps
some of the 76,000
people who the Drivers License Division can’t find will update their addresses.
County clerks who
provided outstanding service throughout the signature gathering process. The
clerks then verified a huge number of signatures in the very short time frame
put on them by the legislature without any funding from the legislature.
Some future Political
Science Ph.D. candidate who will write their dissertation on how referendum
sponsors used social media to mobilize the populace, how hundreds of small
donors stepped up to donate the funds needed to print referendum packets, how referendum
packets were distributed across the state, how Harmons along with other Associated
Food stores helped ensure success by making easily identified signing venues
available and how legislators and their allies were caught flat-footed because
of their arrogance and belief that they had set the bar so high that no
referendum staffed by volunteers could ever succeed.
The Salt Lake Chamber
which was one of the major driving forces behind the effort to shift the tax
burden almost entirely onto middle income Utahns and small businesses while
giving corporations income tax cuts and preserving hundreds of millions of
dollars of sales tax exemptions previously granted to big businesses.
The Kem C. Gardner Policy
Institute which is controlled by Utah’s economic and political elites and
which produced so-called empirical studies that provided the justification for the
tax reform that was so roundly rejected by the citizens of Utah.
who uses her multiple roles in the Salt Lake Chamber, her control of the Kem C.
Gardner Policy Institute and her voice in the Deseret News to push the big business
community’s agenda forward at the expense of middle income Utahns and small
The Utah [big
business] Taxpayers Association which was a leading proponent of the tax
reform bill that was enacted by the legislature. It contributed to the tax
reform package passed by legislators and then provided proponents of the bill with
multipage talking points in an unsuccessful effort to convince citizens not
to sign the referendum.
accused the estimated 180,000 or so Utahns who signed the referendum petition of
joining forces with “fringe groups” that supported the referendum and labeling
gubernatorial candidates who supported the referendum as demagogues. In the
end, no one listened to them beyond those who make up the Utah Swamp and they
were not able to turn the tide.
Institute which supported the bill, a special session and then spent a
reported $60,000 on a last ditch effort to defeat the popular uprising against
the bill. As was the case with UtahPolicy.com, it quickly became evident just
how little influence the Sutherland Institute has with the general public and
just how few people view them favorably.
support was purchased with a means tested income tax exemption for a limited number
of Social Security recipients. AARP threw the vast majority of social security
beneficiaries under the bus by its actions.
Voices for Utah
Children which tempered its opposition to the bill in return for a food tax
rebate which made previously independent citizens beholden to the state and for
$500,000 to ensure that those new wards of the state collected their food tax
pre-bate and rebate—for one year.
who voted for the bill, who were forced to eat humble pie and who now may face
primary challenges and the continuing wrath of the voters.
Governor Gary Herbert
whose legacy will be forever tarnished by the overwhelming rejection of the tax
reform bill that his administration helped develop and which would never have
gone forward without his blessing and signature. Had the governor listened more
to the people than simply doing the bidding of the Salt Lake Chamber and his
big donors he could have avoided this disaster.
Members of the Tax Task
Force who decided what they would do and then used their carefully
orchestrated, taxpayer funded $150,000 plus propaganda road-trip to push their
agenda forward while giving the impression that they were listening to the
people—which they weren’t.
who passed a bill
in 2019 designed to make it almost impossible for a referendum to succeed.
The Utah Association
of Realtors which reportedly spent $100,000 for a mailing in support of
task reform even before the final bill was drafted and who constantly pushed
for new and/or higher property taxes. The Realtors eventually set up a website to help its members
support the bill and even drafted an e-mail for them to send to legislators
which reads: Thank you for taking the time to study this issue and listen to
public feedback. I support the state legislature adopting the proposal put
forward by the Tax Restructuring Task Force because it will solve Utah's
funding issues, modernize the tax structure, and result in an overall tax cut
Business and local
government associations that groveled before the legislature as they heaped praise on the tax
reform bill and pleaded for a special session to pass it during the final
meeting of the tax task force—AARP, Wasatch Front Regional Council, Utah
Bankers Association, Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, Utah Tourism
Industry Association, Utah Association of Counties, Utah League of Cities and
Towns, People not Prisons, Odyssey House of Utah, Utah Association of Addiction
Treatment Providers, Youth Providers Association of Utah, Sutherland Institute,
Utah Taxpayers Association, Tax Foundation, New Car Dealers of Utah, Steward
Health Care, Utah Association of Realtors, Utah Apartment Association, Clyde
Companies, Finley Resources, Chamber West, Salt Lake Chamber, Saunders Outdoor,
Utah Cultural Alliance, Voices for Utah Children, Utah Home Builders, and Utah
gathering companies which charge high fees per signature and have up to a
30 percent rejection rate when volunteers witnessed an estimated 180,000
signatures with an unheard of rejection rate of well under 10%.
The Utah Education Association
which declined to be an active participant in the referendum and to a lesser
degree the PTA which took far too long to get fully involved.
The Alliance for a
Better Utah which turned down the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder
with citizens and gubernatorial candidates opposing the bill at a press
conference and then failed to support the referendum.
Libertas Institute of
Utah, Americans for Prosperity and other groups that claim to stand with
the citizens and defend them from excessive government control, regulation and
institutions that failed to stand up for the poor in their communities.
gubernatorial candidates who did not sign the petition (Greg Hughes,
Spencer Cox and Thomas Wright).
A small number of Associated
Food stores that did not allow signature witnessing in their stores along
with the big grocery chains such as Costco, Smiths, and Walmart who were
willing to simply pass the increase in the food sales tax onto their customers.
Editor’s Note: Please
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if you have other suggestions for winners and losers.