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Utah 2019 Tax Referendum: The Winners and Losers

Ronald Mortensen, Ph.D.

Co-Founder, CitizensForTaxFairness.org

1-25-20

 

WINNERS

 

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.

 

Other Associated 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.

 

Social media 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.

 

Voterrecords.com which, 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.

 

Democrat legislators 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 proof.

 

Democrat and Republican elected officials who took referendum packets and joined their constituents in witnessing signatures.

 

Republican 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 case.

 

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.  

 

 

LOSERS

 

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.

 

Natalie Gochnour 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 businesses.

 

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.

 

UtahPolicy.com which 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.

 

The Sutherland 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.

 

AARP whose 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.

 

Republican legislators 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.

 

Republican and Democrat Representatives and Senators 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 for Utahans.

 

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 Optometric Association.

 

Paid signature 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 taxation.

 

Religious institutions that failed to stand up for the poor in their communities.

 

Republican 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 contact us at info@citizensfortaxfairness.org if you have other suggestions for winners and losers.

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