If history is any kind of indicator, proponents of tax rollbacks are in for an uphill battle, according to a Brigham Young University expert on initiatives and referendums.
"Since we are such infrequent users of (the initiative) process, I think we're not really geared up in the way that states like California, Colorado, Oregon or Washington are," said David B. Magleby, a political scientist. "They deal with these things every election."If the Utah proposals should garner enough valid signatures, the initiatives will be on the November 1988 ballot. The road to placing them there is rocky, however, because Utah has not dealt with many initiatives. Magleby says only eight initiatives made it to the ballot between 1898 and 1979, and only two were passed.
The last initiative to be passed was the 1976 Freedom From Compulsory Fluoride and Medication Act. The last one on the ballot was the 1984 Cable TV Decency Act, which was defeated.
As the author of many scholarly articles on initiatives and referendums, and as an expert widely quoted around the nation, Magleby foresees several problems for those circulating petitions.
"In order to qualify for the ballot, the proponents must gather signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote for governor in the preceding gubernatorial election, and they must get signatures in a specified number of counties," what's called the geographic distribution requirement.
Not everyone who signs a petition is a registered voter. Not everyone writes a proper address. That means county clerks and registrars will have to go through the list of signatures and throw out names that can't be verified.
"That's been the subject of some substantial litigation in virtually every other state and could well be here," Magleby said.
Even if the matters don't make it to the ballot, Magleby said, they will have reshaped Utah's political agenda in much the same way that the tax revolt did American politics in the 1980s. In fact, the proposed initiatives are already affecting Utah politics.
"Nobody's talking in Utah these days about a further increase in taxes to fund education, although I suspect that, were these measures not around, tax hikes might be on the agenda," he said.
The People's Tax Reduction Act would reduce the rate of state income, sales, motor fuel and tobacco taxes. The People's Tax and Spending Limitation Amendments would place a cap on residential property taxes. The State Tax Commission has estimated that these two measures would reduce state and local revenues by $345.7 million.
In addition to these fiscal measures, the Political Action Disclosure Act would require political action committees to be registered in the state and to report their political contributions.
The Utah Family Choice in Education Act would provide parents wanting to send their children to private schools a limited tax credit against income taxes.
Proponents of the initiatives won't be the only group to face problems, he said.
"The opponents of the measure, based on my studies of other states, are going to have to generate a broad-based coalition. It cannot be just the people who will be perceived as being at the public trough educators, state employees and so forth and the public will have to be educated on the economic and fiscal realities of Utah state government."