In November 2022, Arizona voters approved a constitutional amendment, Proposition 132, which would “require at least sixty percent of votes cast to approve an initiative or referendum that enacts a tax”. This important amendment protects taxpayers, ensures broad consensus for initiatives that enact a tax, and promotes fiscal responsibility. Utah must follow Arizona’s example and pass the same amendment.
We live in an increasingly global world. While this has its advantages, it also means that Utah is vulnerable to the influences and priorities of external interests which do not reflect the will or preferences of the residents of Utah. External groups are able to push their agendas in Utah through campaigns and ultimately through ballot initiatives which, when they are passed, tangibly change the political and cultural environment of the state. Your Taxpayers Association is concerned when these out-of-state groups use their influence and capital to affect tax rates in Utah. Utah is an attractive state to do business and to live in part because of its low tax rates, and is a very successful state as a result. In order to continue to have a successful state, tax rates must remain low. Requiring a 60% threshold for ballot initiatives which would enact or raise taxes makes it more difficult for these initiatives to pass, which must be a goal of Utah residents in order to maintain the state as an attractive place to work and live.
Ensures Broad Consensus
If an individual lives in Utah, it can be assumed that they generally like the weather, the political environment, the educational and employment opportunities, and the state in general. If they didn’t like what Utah has to offer, they would likely move to a different state where policies and circumstances are different. Of course, there are things that everyone would like to change about where they live, but in general, continuing to live in Utah is indicative of a satisfaction with the status quo. Ballot initiatives – specifically those which raise taxes – should require that 60% of the voter turnout vote in favor of the change, because it can reasonably be assumed that those who do not vote are happy with the way things are but are simply not motivated to vote. The 60% threshold upholds the status quo while still allowing for democratic change where broad support is evident.
Ensures Diverse Consensus
Increasing the threshold for ballot initiatives from 50% to 60% reflects the diversity of the state. Utah voters vary in age, gender, ideology, location and priorities; a simple majority vote does not reflect all of these differences. Consider this hypothetical example: a ballot initiative is proposed which would impose a new tax only on men and reduce taxes for women. On election day, all the men vote against the initiative, and all the women vote in favor of it. Since women make up 51% of the voters, the initiative passes without a single male vote and taxes on men are raised and are lowered for women. This is not fair. With a 60% threshold, however, some men would have had to vote in favor of their own tax raise in order for this initiative to pass. There would have been an indication of broad consensus. Of course, no ballot initiative would be so binary or transparent, but the principle is sound: consensus must reflect diversity.
Promotes Fiscal Responsibility
Raising taxes should be difficult. It is asking taxpayers to part with their hard-earned money. When proposed legislation, including tax raises, go through the Legislature, they are subject to committee hearings, public comment, floor debate, and several votes before they ever become policy. This due process is designed to protect taxpayers, restrict government, and promote fiscal responsibility. Ballot initiatives should have to go through a similarly rigorous process. Unfortunately, a ballot initiative is written by a single group or person and there is no process to refine it and eliminate unintended consequences or gain a consensus. Voters can only vote up or down on it. A simple majority is not rigorous enough.
A 60% threshold for legitimate tax increases is not an unreasonable hurdle. It has been done – in Utah – as recently as November 2022. Tooele City’s “Question 1” on their November 2022 ballot proposed a 0.1% ZAP/RAP tax which passed with 68.90% of the vote. Similarly, in November 2022, Salt Lake City passed an $85m GO bond with 71.32% of the vote. Where tax increases are necessary, they can be passed. Requiring a 60% threshold to pass these tax increases simply promotes fiscal responsibility rather than taking the easy route and raising revenues.
It is good tax policy to look to other states for what is working well. Arizona, by passing Prop. 132, has protected its taxpayers from higher taxes because of external interests, has promoted fiscal responsibility, and has ensured that ballot initiatives that raise taxes pass only with broad and diverse consensus. These are all things that Utah could benefit from if it were to pass similar legislation. Your Taxpayers Association will continue to promote this constitutional amendment in Utah in order to afford Utahns the same protections as those in Arizona, and to maintain Utah as a competitive state to live and do business.