Referendum Against Controversial Tax Bill Hopes to Succeed


Aisles at Harmon’s grocery store. (Photo by Hailey Danielson | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Natalie Colby, Editor-in-Chief


Utah citizens against the 2019 tax bill S.B.-2001 are racing to collect the number of signatures needed to pass the referendum to vote for or against the bill in the November election, instead of it going immediately into effect.

The tax bill S.B.-2001 was passed on Dec. 14, and will lower income taxes but raise taxes on food, gas and services throughout Utah.

Members of communities all across the state have joined in the non-partisan effort and set up tables at their local Harmons grocery store or walked door-to-door to collect signatures. They need at least 8% of the total voting population in 15 out of the 29 counties. 

Fred C. Cox, former Utah state representative of the 30th District from 2015 to 2016 and the 32nd District from 2011 to 2012, was among the first to start the movement.

Cox said this bill is a tax nightmare for both politicians and constituents. He also said there are several points that go directly against the Utah State Constitution, such as trying to use sales taxes for things other than roads and transportation, which the constitution says cannot be the case. 

“I’m looking at this thinking this is a disaster,” Cox said, “This has to be stopped.” 

The Monday after the bill was passed on Dec. 14 in a special session, Cox was at the state capitol with a referendum application and hoped to collect around 115,869 signatures in the upcoming weeks.

In order to accomplish this, Cox started a Facebook group that now has over 25,000 members, helping him plan and coordinate the movement, finding people to volunteer and calculating the number of signatures needed.

Cox said because it is an effort from both Republicans and Democrats alike, the number one rule is respect. Ron Mckee, one of the supporters of the referendum, said this brings people from different parties together in a new way.

Local citizens sign the tax referendum at the Draper Harmons. (Courtesy Janet Pace)

Signatures had to be collected in specific packets, and they had to raise money to print them out. Cox said the majority of donations were around $5, $10, and $25 and came right before Christmas. 

Each packet holds 40 signatures, and they had to print out 6,250 in order to accommodate the number of signatures they were receiving. Cox said he even had to find a second printer because the one they were using could not print the packets out fast enough. 

One of the many assets of this project has been Harmon’s grocery stores, because the family-owned business has openly supported the referendum and has let people set up tables in their markets across the state to collect signatures. This move gave voters an easy place to find and sign the referendum. Instead of having to search for community members with a packet, they could simply head to the local store and find someone waiting there for them.

Mckee walked around Salt Lake City on Jan. 18 with a packet, determined the referendum would pass. 

“These taxes are regressive and affect the poorest of us, and I personally believe we should not be taxing food,” he said.

Cox said he is doing this because he knows what it is like to walk into a store with three dollars and have to decide between buying a can of chicken or a jug of milk, and the amount of tax on the food would end up determining which he would pick in the end. 

A press conference was held on Jan. 18 at the Utah State Capitol where both Cox and Bob Harmon, co-owner of Harmons, spoke about the referendum and why they are in support of it.

Harmon said that it is important that Utahns fully understand the tax bill before it goes into effect and the referendum would allow this to happen.

“We only have three days left, there is a little bit of urgency, make sure that if you haven’t signed this referendum, please go down and ask the questions … and sign it,” he said. 

Salt Lake County clerks were even accepting signatures on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, because the number of people sending in packets is so large. 

Cox said he does not know the exact number of signatures they have or will get, but he predicts they will reach their needed number of signatures, around 115,869, after Martin Luther King Day.

He said if they do not reach the required number of signatures but only hit around 90,000 or 100,000 by the Tuesday deadline, they hope the legislature will simply repeal the bill because of the mass support for a referendum. However, he believes this is unlikely to happen.

In addition, Cox said if they do not repeal the bill, he believes the representatives will be voted out of office because of the outrage from this bill’s passing.


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