Salt Lake City — When voters cast their ballots next Tuesday some may be surprised to learn there are more than candidates on the ballot. Three amendments to the Utah state constitution are also up for a vote.
While the news cycle has focused on high profile races like the attorney general’s race and the 4th congressional district, discussion of these constitutional amendments has so far been minimal, even though they could have a much greater impact on Utahns than any candidate.
The most far-reaching constitutional change, known as Constitutional Amendment A, seeks to remove the current requirement that the State Tax Commission be equally balanced between Utah’s two major political parties, Democrats and Republicans. The new amendment would change that requirement by allowing the governor to fill seats on the commission with members of only one political party.
The amendment is causing some Utahns to call foul, arguing the constitutional change could throw the commission out of balance.
“Those arguing in favor of the amendment say they want to take the State Tax Commission out of politics, but essentially the amendment puts the commission back into politics,” said Robert Huefner, professor emeritus at the University of Utah and former gubernatorial tax advisor.
Currently, the commission is required to maintain political balance by seating two members from each of the two major political parties in Utah. In a sense, the different parties cancel each other out, making the commission politically neutral. Removing the political party requirement could throw the commission into politically biased territory.
“I believe political balance is a big deal,” said David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and current board member of Alliance for a Better UTAH. “While the argument that these appointments should be qualification-based is a good one, without the requirement that there be a partisan balance, the entire commission will soon be Republican.”
Proponents for the change argue there aren’t enough qualified Democrats to sit on the commission. Opponents argue such reasoning is inherently flawed.
“That is simply not true,” said Huefner. “It is a terrible indictment of the system.
Two other amendments are also before voters. Constitutional Amendment B would make changes to ensure an appointed Lt. Governor and Governor stay on the same election cycle, even when the Lt. Governor is appointed out of cycle. Although the circumstances that would lead to this becoming a problem are limited, most election scholars seem to support the logic of the amendment.
Constitutional Amendment C allows members of the state executive branch, including the Lt. Governor, State Auditor and State Treasurer, to appoint outside legal counsel. The amendment stems in part from the recent resignation and subsequent corruption charges of former Attorney General John Swallow. Still, some argue the amendment is an overreach.
“These are largely ministerial positions, not policy-making positions, and I think this is an opportunity for patronage mischief,” said Irvine. “It’s a little ironic that the Republican legislature bought into this unnecessary expansion of government.”
Communications Director, Alliance for a Better UTAH
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