Petition prompts referendum bill
Ryan Summerlin January 22, 2013
John Valentine, R-Orem, is sponsoring a bill aimed to address a flaw in the Truth in Taxation referendum process.
Summit County is one of a handful of entities that recently passed tax increases, only to have them halted by petitions until they can be voted on in future elections.
However, Summit County was unable to put the referendums on the 2012 ballots because of deadlines required by the state.
"What the bill does is change some of the time frames after a Truth in Taxation hearing to ensure a vote will be timely for actions challenged through a petition process," Valentine said. "The problem I see is if we don’t change some of the time frames, we end up with an odd situation where a petition can actually freeze the budgets for two years."
Valentine said he wants tax increases to be able to go onto ballots in the same year the proposed budget increase is to go into effect.
"In my community of Orem, we had a petition drive over a budget increase, partially related to Utopia (a group of cities that have joined together to provide a fiber-optic network)," he said. "The petitioners were able to get sufficient votes, but not in enough time to get onto the November ballot, so they won’t be able to vote on it until the municipal election in November 2013."
Highland is facing the same problem, he said.
"But this is not something that is unique to just your area or our area. It’s a problem statewide," he added.
The proposed bill, if passed, will "fine tune" the time frames to avoid the long delays before citizens can vote on a referendum item.
"The bill makes sure it gets onto that particular year’s ballot rather than some future ballot," Valentine said.
What the bill doesn’t do is change the percentages of voters required for a petition.
"Some people have wanted me to make it a higher required percentage," he said. "But I’ve chosen not to do that. It’s hard enough to get a petition passed as it is. I felt like the more important policy consideration for me was to make sure it gets voted on in the same year for which the tax increase is being requested."
The bill also doesn’t propose that only those who are affected by the tax increase can sign a petition against the increase, as Summit County Officials were hoping.
Petitions that recently halted two tax increases in Summit County were circulated and signed by many who did not live in the jurisdictions affected by the tax increases.
"If somebody came to me with a good solution to that, I’d consider it," Valentine said. "But I don’t have a good solution for that at this time, so the bill is as I’ve drafted it. My focus was on cities, because my problem was in Orem and Highland which is in my district."
Summit County Lobbyist Desmond Barker told the council during their Jan. 16 work session that he’s heard rumors of a second bill to address that issue, but no sponsors have yet come forward with a bill.
Councilmember Claudia McMullin asked why Valentine didn’t just put the issue on his bill instead of having two separate bills.
"He was approached to run the bill by two cities in his district, but the cities don’t have the same problem the counties have, so I don’t think they see that as the biggest issue," Barker explained. "A lot of times these legislatures say, ‘I’m not sure I want to muck it up. I don’t know where I’m at with this other issue.’"
The bill is currently being drafted, after which it will go through a fiscal analysis and be assigned a number.