Tuesday may set a record, both in Utah and in the rest of the nation, for voter turnout. However, that delightful vote of confidence in democracy will have little, if anything, to do with the ballot measures voters will consider.
The Deseret News has a long-standing policy of not endorsing candidates. But we have an equally long tradition of endorsing ballot measures. The reason? We wouldn't presume to intrude upon your decisions regarding the personalities vying to become your representatives in the halls of government. Public policy questions, however, require direct democracy.
That is a tremendous responsibility that, unfortunately, tends to generate too little research and thought. Here are our recommendations:
Constitutional amendments. Voters face five of them this year. We recommend "yes" votes on all.
• Amendment A: Odd as it seems, the method for replacing a governor who dies, resigns or is incapacitated is unclear in the Utah Constitution. That's why, when Gov. Mike Leavitt left office to join President Bush's Cabinet, arguments arose as to whether Lt. Gov. Olene Walker should become the governor or merely the acting governor. This amendment puts all those arguments to rest and carefully describes the method of succession and when to hold the next election under certain circumstances. This is long overdue and deserves voter approval.
• Amendment B: This measure would allow the Legislature to put more money into a permanent state trust fund established in 2001. Specifically, the state would put money there from taxes it collects on oil, gas and mineral extraction. This makes good fiscal sense. The state's raw minerals will play out someday. Why not put the money collected from their extraction into a fund and then use the interest earned to help fund state government year after year?
The only down side to this amendment is that the Legislature passed a law allowing tax receipts only in excess of $98.6 million to go into the fund. That's not just a random number. Last year, the fund collected about $100 million. Lawmakers, of course, didn't want to lose a source of revenue that was coming directly to the general fund. And, with energy prices dropping, the fund may not see a lot of action for a while. Eventually it will, however. And eventually, future generations will be grateful voters approved this amendment.
• Amendments C and D: These are technical changes. Amendment C would move the start of the legislative session one week later. No more conflicts with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Also, it would allow lawmakers to observe Presidents Day during the session. Amendment D allows lawmakers to redraw districts during the first regular session after receiving results from the census, not merely after the census has been taken. Both amendments deserve support.
• Amendment E: The timing of this amendment is unfortunate, given recent collapses on Wall Street. But the reasoning behind it is sound. This amendment would allow the state treasurer to invest money from the state's permanent school fund into private company equities. In simple terms, this means providing venture capital for promising startup companies. This is not a radical idea. Private trust funds regularly include a small portfolio of such investments, and the state's portfolio would be small, as well. In addition, the state provides plenty of oversight to prevent abuses. The school fund already generates millions for Utah schools each year, relieving taxpayers of some of that burden.
Salt Lake County bond elections. We recommend "yes" votes on both of these. One would provide $33 million to Hogle Zoo for an arctic exhibit and African savannah. The zoo provides an enormous benefit to the Wasatch Front, well worth the $4 or so this would cost average taxpayers per year. The Tracy Aviary bond would raise $19.6 million and would help the facility regain its accreditation. The aviary educates children and adults about the vital role birds play in northern Utah, and it has a long history in Liberty Park.
Both facilities would have to raise millions in private funds before receiving any public funds.