On Nov. 6, Salt Lake County voters will be asked to approve the issuance of a $47 million bond to fund open space, natural habitat, parks and community trails (Proposition 1). Proposition 1 seems like a reasonable and desirable approach for funding much needed outdoor recreation infrastructure, and a great deal for only $6 a year.
However, voters should be aware of the flaws and potential risks associated with Proposition 1 before voting to increase property taxes during a lingering recession.
Despite its laudable purposes, voters should reject Proposition 1 primarily because it provides no guarantees that the six projects proposed by the county will be funded as promised. This is because the ballot language is too broad and does not specify the projects that will be funded with bond proceeds. As written, Proposition 1 actually creates a substantial risk for “bait and switch” by the incoming mayor and a new council who could divert bond proceeds to other “pet” projects without voter approval or input, as long as those projects meet the broadly stated purposes of the ballot.
Verbal assurances given by outgoing Mayor Corroon and legislative intent language adopted by this council cannot overcome this risk or guarantee that bond proceeds will be used as proposed either. That’s because only the terms specified in the text of the official bond resolution and the actual ballot bind local governments when it comes to expending bond proceeds. In addition, state law prohibits the current administration and council from binding future administrations and councils. Therefore, verbal assurances and legislative intent language regarding expenditure of bond proceeds offer no binding guarantees to voters.
The potential risk for “bait and switch” is even more apparent from reading the Proposition 1 ballot. According to the ballot text, bond proceeds will be used for the acquisition, improvement and extension of natural habitat. However, none of the six Proposition 1 projects are natural habitat projects.
Another reason why Proposition 1 should be defeated is because the county failed to follow state laws regarding placement of the measure on the ballot. Most importantly, the county failed to follow the procedures for educating the public about the ballot measure so they could make an informed decision when casting their vote. The State Election Code requires that local governments publish and distribute voter information pamphlets for all ballot propositions. However, the county council thought they were not obligated to do so, and refused to fund the publication and distribution of a voter information pamphlet for Proposition 1. Without council approval, Corroon unilaterally funded publication of a small number of voter information pamphlets anyway using discretionary funds but did not distribute the pamphlets to all taxpayers and voters.
The county further violated the law by not permitting the inclusion of an opposition perspective in the Proposition 1 pamphlet that it published. The State Election Code requires inclusion of an opposition statement if a person or group makes a request within 65 days of the election. The County ignored a timely request made by opponents of Proposition 1 in August.
The County’s actions are surprising and frustrating. Its disregard for state laws is an affront to the direct democratic process of a ballot proposition and a violation of the public’s due process rights. Voters should have access to balanced information when deciding ballot propositions, especially those that authorize the issuance of bonds and increase property taxes. That’s the American way.
Salt Lake County voters beware! Proposition 1 is fundamentally flawed and provides no guarantees that bond proceeds will be spent as promised and should be rejected.
Jeff Salt is the executive director of Great Salt Lakekeeper and former chairman of Salt Lake City Mayor's Open Space Advisory Committee.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company