Taxpayers group discusses initiative one
On Nov. 2, Carbon County and Utah voters rejected initiative one by a 10 point margin although the proposal was expected to pass by a landslide.
The so-called open space initiative would have increased state sales taxes by $195 million during a 13-year period and raised Utah's debtload by $150 million.
Initiative one was billed as an effort to promote clean water, clean air and open space, pointed out the latest report compiled by the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Proponents of the proposal outspent opponents 40 to one. Most political observers expected the proposal to pass since campaign spending was so lopsided and similar initiatives had passed overwhelmingly in other western states.
Supporters wanted the public to believe that the state was spending too little towards open space preservation and environmental protection.
Led by the Virginia-based Nature Conservancy, proponents claimed that the Utah Legislature had reduced funding for clean water, air and open space efforts to a $700,000 per year.
However, the taxpayers association identified more than $5 billion which had been allocated for the purposes during the last 10 years.
The Utah Taxpayers Association published 13 problems with the proposal. The association argued that initiative one duplicated current efforts at the federal, state, local and private level to protect the environment.
Utah's air and water continue to improve due to the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that have been spent in recent years.
The taxpayers association maintained that open space preservation was being adequately addressed in Utah. Federal and state governments typically own and protect between 75 percent and 95 percent of all land in rural counties. In urban areas, open space preservation is the responsibility of local governments.
In addition, the independent public policy organization argued that voters should be insisting on tax cuts instead of small hikes. And even an increase equivalent to two movie tickets per family was still too much considering the state's already high state-local tax and fee burden.
The association also raised concerns about the lack of accountability.
Unlike similar efforts in other western states, the initiative did not specifically explain how and where the tax revenues would be spent, pointed out the independent public policy organization's report.
No specific projects or critical land parcels were identified in the initiative petition. If approved, the revenues from the tax increase would have been spent by an unaccountable and unelected group.
The proposal was being sold as protecting open space, but your the taxpayers association pointed out that up to 20 percent of the initiative revenues could be spent on convention centers, museums, swimming pools and local government buildings, which most Utahns do not consider to be open space.
Gov. Olene Walker echoed many of the arguments, with particular emphasis on the state's inability to fund needed transportation projects if the $150 million bond were passed.
Walker also expressed opposition to a provision in the proposal that required the state to pay a fee in lieu of property taxes to local governments for projects funded by initiative one revenues.
Opponents also expressed concern that approval of the proposal would encourage well-funded groups to attempt raising taxes and spending by initiative in the future.
Initiative one supporters spent close to $2 million on television advertising and mailers.
Opponents had a budget of less than $50,000 and relied on earned media press conferences, debates as well as limited last minute radio and newspaper advertising.
Initial polls showed Utahns supporting the initiative by roughly 70 percent to 30 percent. As election day approached, one state pollster showed the initiative passing with 58 percent approval.
On Nov. 2, exit polls showed 54 percent approval. As the night progressed and the votes were tallied, initiative one received a majority of votes in two small "granola" counties and, statewide, the initiative was defeated by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, concluded the Utah Taxpayers Association.