This issue of taxation is a sticky one in politics. On one hand, lawmakers are eager to fund the programs and policies they support, on the other, they don’t like hearing from upset constituents when those citizens are asked to pay for those programs.
One tactic lawmakers across the nation use in an attempt to negate this backlash is to implement laws that either suggest or require citizens vote on proposed changes to various taxes themselves. The logic being that the people will get exactly what the people are willing to pay for.
Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) wants Utah to get in on that action with SJR 2– Joint Resolution on Legislative Power.
The resolution adds two lines to Article VI, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution, simply reading, “The Legislature may require any law it passes relating to taxation to be approved by the voters of the State before taking affect.”
The key word in SJR 2 is “may.” If lawmakers are attempting to pass a particularly controversial tax increase, they would now have the ability to put the tax increase before the voters of the state, though they would not be required to do so. By adding this particular addition to the state constitution, lawmakers could effectively punt any tax increases (or decreases, theoretically) to the public, avoiding the heat of angry constituents back home when they wonder why their taxes have gone up.
A foreseeable problem could come in the form of voter fatigue when, year after year, voters see tax measures appear on their ballot and simply vote without considering the true weight of their actions. On the other side, voters could make it very clear that they do not, for example, want an increased food tax.
The other major issue that could arise comes from the vague phrase “related to taxation.” In other words, it’s not just specific tax bills that could be sent to the public for approval or rejection, but anything possibly relating to taxation. That’s a pretty wide net, and the bill doesn’t set in place a specific arbiter to decide what is or isn’t legitimately “related to taxation.” It’s very possible that if this language were to successfully become law it could be used as a weapon by lawmakers who could claim that future legislation they oppose is all of a sudden “related to taxation,” and effectively kill a sound bill by amending it to send it to the general public, adding an extra political hurdle to public policy.
If, during the legislative process the critical word “may” turns into “shall” a whole new set of problems would present themselves. California, infamously, has in place Proposition 13 in which voters ultimately made the popular and financially disastrous tax policy to restrict real estate taxes in that state. This one example of citizens deciding tax policy as opposed to lawmakers points to the fundamental problem that people don’t really like paying taxes and they will often vote not for what is in the peoples best interest, but to save a few bucks come April 15.
Regardless of what the resolution ultimately says, one result is clear: elected representatives will take less responsibility for tax increases if SJR 2 were to pass.
To contact Senator Osmond, click here or call 801-253-6853.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker