The initiative to remove the sales tax on food may be the star electoral attraction, but Utah voters next month also will confront a record number of ballot issues ranging from wilderness to tax-subsidized county fairs.
Along with three statewide proposals, the Nov. 6 election boasts at least 23 propositions, bond issues, school leeways and information-gathering questions in 17 of Utah's 29 counties.And the list could grow.
Spring City added a bond issue just a week ago, while officials in Tooele County, Tooele City and Grantsville just completed work to get a bus-service proposal placed on ballots there.
"Normally, we have just nothing but constitutional amendments or state issues," election consultant Vernon Carr said. "Once in a while, maybe one or two bond issues parallel the general election, but nothing like what we've got this year."
On top of the heap is Initiative A, with a high profile that has made ballot wallflowers out of its less glamorous partners, Propositions 1 and 2.
Spearheaded by the Independent Party of Utah, Initiative A would remove the state and local sales tax from food, except that prepared for immediate consumption or sold through vending machines.
Groups have lined up on both sides of the debate and argued the potential effects of repeal for weeks.
The propositions, lacking opposition, face a better chance of passage.
Proposition 1, called the special districts amendment, asks whether the Utah Constitution should be amended to allow counties, cities and towns to establish special districts to provide health-care services.
Proposition 2, an "emergency powers" amendment, asks whether the constitution should be changed to let the Legislature adopt measures "to ensure the continuity of government operations when those operations are seriously disrupted as a result of natural or man-made disaster."
Hardly the stuff of which heated arguments are made, says Carr.
"In the past, constitutional amendments normally have arguments for and against so it's usually a controversial issue. But in the voter-information pamphlet that the lieutenant governor is required to publish, there is no argument against Propositions 1 or 2, so chances are they'll fly this time," he said.
Predicting the outcome of issues pending in counties, cities and school districts is chancier.
Wilderness in Millard
In Millard County, wilderness supporters and multiple-use advocates will square off over 265,600 acres of county land proposed as wilderness by the Bureau of Land Management.
"It's an information-gathering question," said County Clerk Marlene Whicker. "The county commissioners wanted to give the people an opportunity to voice their preference."
The vote could go either way in a county where farming and ranching are critical livelihoods, but where residents last year voted 4-1 against allowing any hazardous-waste disposal facilities within their borders.
"Our county is a very environmentally conscious county," said Commissioner Michael Styler, a multiple-use proponent who fostered the idea of holding informational votes on both the wilderness and waste issues.
Another opinion question is on tap in tiny Wayne County, where voters are being asked whether they favor the proposed Fremont River Dam and Power Project near Torrey.
Utah County Fair
In Utah County, officials want to know how residents feel about using tax revenues to pay for the county fair.
"I can tell you what answer you'll probably get there," Carr said. "I think the answer would be they don't want to spend the tax."
Indeed, money matters, which make up the bulk of the ballot issues, may not fare well with an electorate described this year as uptight about budgets and taxation.
"In these times of monies, I think most of these issues with money attached to them are looked at more seriously than they used to be," Carr said.
School district taxes
A new feature this year is the school leeway, approved by the Legislature last winter as a mechanism to reduce class sizes.
The law enabled most of the state's 40 school boards to impose a leeway assessing an additional 2 mills in property tax, which may be augmented by the state at a rate of $30 per student per weighted pupil unit.
Leeways in the Juab and Sevier school districts were rejected by voters during the Sept. 11 primary. But Sevier is trying again in November, along with Duchesne, Grand, Granite, Murray, Nebo, Tooele, Uintah and Weber school districts.
If a school board approved the leeway with no objection from the public, no election is required. Some districts are holding voted leeways, despite already having board approval and no challenges, said Jay Jeffery, finance director for the State Office of Education.
"Nebo and Weber said `we'll hold an election this fall and if our people feel good about it, we'll do it,' " he said.
Garfield is the only school district holding a bond election, with $1.5 million sought for a gymnasium-auditorium at Bryce Valley High School.
City and county bonds
Bonding issues also are pending in Morgan County, where voters will decide whether to spend $1.5 million for recreation facilities, and in the cities of Kanab, American Fork and latecomer Spring City.
American Fork wants $2.5 million to expand the city water system; Spring City $180,000 for road improvements; and Kanab $350,000 for a new fire station.
Utah Transit Authority
The Utah Transit Authority proposal in Tooele County joins bus-service propositions in Logan and Springville, where voters will decide whether to approve a quarter-percent sales tax increase. Logan's would fund a public transportation system, while Springville's would bring in UTA service.
The tentative UTA proposal in Tooele County must win approval in the city of Tooele to pass, Carr said.
"Unless Tooele City comes on in favor of it, it won't happen because there isn't enough population in Grantsville or the unincorporated county area to justify it," he said.
Fire and health districts
The remaining four issues include proposed tax increases in the Park City Fire District and the San Juan County Health Services District, and two measures that could change the city governments of Ogden and West Jordan.
West Jordan voters will decide whether to elect four of their six City Council members from specific districts, rather than from the city at large. Ogden residents are being asked whether they want to scrap the city's charter and council-manager form of government in favor of a council-mayor system.
Among local issues to be decided by voters next month:
- Bus service in Tooele County, Springville and Logan.
- Using tax money to support the Utah County Fair.
- Nine school districts - including Granite, Murray and Nebo - are proposing property-tax increases.
- City government changes in West Jordan and Ogden.