It’s not unusual to hear Utahns worry that they don’t want the state to become like California, where voters often face page after page of citizen initiatives on Election Day. So far, that has been an unfounded fear, but the three propositions, one non-binding question and three constitutional amendments this year were a lot for voters to consider.
Given the varying results on Tuesday, it appears people took their task seriously and weighed each on its merits. Their choices, however, may be felt for years to come.
In the end, the initiative legalizing a form of medicinal marijuana in Utah was not nearly the sensation some in the national media made it out to be.
Utahns are compassionate, and they have an understandable desire to alleviate suffering. But a weakness in the citizen initiative process is that it requires an up-or-down vote on a particular idea, with no available avenue for compromises or amendments.
Thanks to a remarkable agreement among key supporters and opponents of Proposition 2, announced weeks before Election Day, Utahns now may expect the governor to convene a special legislative session to modify what voters passed and write a law that provides medicinal relief without compromising public safety.
Still, the success of Proposition 2 was a loud message about perceived legislative inaction, and it led the way in a remarkable array of citizen lawmaking on Tuesday.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of raising gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon to fund public schools and higher education. That likely was the result of confusion, given that gas taxes typically don’t go toward schools and that this hike would have been part of a complicated scheme to free up general fund money for education.
The fear is that lawmakers now might consider Utahns emphatically opposed to higher taxes for schools. That question wasn’t decided on Tuesday.
Utahns passed Proposition 3, which will raise the sales tax slightly in order to expand Medicaid eligibility to households earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
This is the full Medicaid expansion originally called for under Obamacare, and it comes with generous federal funding. The vote vindicates those who criticized state lawmakers for refusing to consider it in recent years. We may soon know, however, whether lawmakers were correct in worrying that this move would lead eventually to runaway costs.
Voters also provided mixed results on three constitutional amendments lawmakers put on ballots. The most important of these was the overwhelming approval of a change allowing the Legislature to call itself into session during times of emergency.
While it remains unclear exactly what problem this change was meant to solve, voters seemed persuaded by the argument that the Legislature was the only branch of state government lacking the power to decide when to work.
One has to possess a vivid imagination, however, to foresee an emergency situation in which the governor would refuse to call lawmakers to action, even if the executive and legislative branches some day were divided by political party.24 comments on this story
Finally, Proposition 4, which would set up a commission to redraw Utah’s political boundaries every 10 years, remained too close to call by press time. This one, if passed, may have the biggest effect on future politics in Utah. The commission would operate under a set of parameters requiring it to draw districts based on the need to keep neighborhoods and communities of interest intact. That undoubtedly would change the state’s political landscape, given that boundaries today are drawn mainly with political interests in mind.
Despite this relatively jam-packed ballot, Utah still does not appear to be headed toward California-style direct democracy. The state maintains a high bar for getting proposed laws on the ballot.
What voters did accomplish, however, was to send a message to lawmakers that they intend to impose the will of the people in situations where they feel repeatedly ignored.