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A report before the Salt Lake City Airport Advisory Board this morning revealed that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft have put a significant dent in the marketshare previously monopolized by taxis.

Just five months ago, only 14% of ground transportation at the airport was serviced by Uber and Lyft drivers. Since then, that number has increased to 26%.

These companies faced significant hurdles in become legally enfranchised. As first revealed by Libertas Institute, Salt Lake City imposed $6,500 fines on drivers who were discovered using a secret shopper program. Ironically, one of these secret shoppers hired to punish the new companies actually preferred them over taxis.

Political pressure mounted in favor of ridesharing, leading the legislature and city council to revise the laws to enfranchise these disruptive services. Following the deregulation an agreement was made between the companies and the airport, and since that time drivers have been able to legally operate.

Market disruption such as ridesharing is often controversial as upstart companies must navigate through a barrier of protectionist laws designed to shield the established industry from their competition. Utah’s constitution demands a free market; the difficulties government imposed upon these companies and their drivers clearly demonstrates that elected officials have been unwilling to abide by that rigorous constitutional provision.

Following a defeat at the State Republican convention where the Common Core education standards were a central point of contention between gubernatorial challenger Jonathan Johnson and incumbent Governor Gary Herbert, the latter has just issued a letter to the State Board of Education asking them to dump the standards.

This comes as a shock to many, as Herbert has long been an ardent proponent of the standards, dismissing and denigrating the concerns raised by critics.

The letter takes an about face, conceding that “there are legitimate concerns that I share with those opposed to the Common Core” and asking the Board to “consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Governor also states that “it is critical that we not repeat past mistakes made during the 2010 implementation of the Common Core standards,” noting that “we must work with parents and students to understand what works and what can be improved.” We find this interesting, as this argument was the basis of our lawsuit against the State Board of Education. Utah law specifies that in “establishing minimum standards related to curriculum and instruction” the Board shall consult with local school boards, teachers, parents, and others.

This was not done. To rebut the arguments outside of the court, the Governor asked the Attorney General to review some of the concerns about Common Core—concerns that Herbert has not conceded until today. That legal analysis, signed by Attorney General Reyes, inaccurately states that the language regarding consulting parents was not in statute in 2010 as the Board was adopting Common Core. That is completely incorrect; the statute had been in place for years prior. It was utterly disregarded during the rushed process of adopting the Common Core standards.

It is important to note that the Board of Education adopted an experimental set of standards for which there was no evidence. No trials had been done. Nothing had been tested. They rushed the state into its adoption not because of any empirical data, but because its adoption was required in order to qualify for a potential federal grant that, in the end, Utah did not receive. For filthy federal lucre, hundreds of thousands of Utah children were turned into pedagogical guinea pigs.

We welcome the Governor’s newfound concern with the Common Core standards and encourage the State Board of Education to follow suit—this time actually consulting with the parents and teachers who are impacted by their top-down decisions.

In a pre-written letter released mere minutes after the Governor’s letter to the Board, Board chairman David Crandall states that the Board “is cognizant of the issues surrounding the 2010 adoption” and that they will “always look for ways to improve upon” the standards. Nothing is stated in direct response to the Governor’s suggestion about the Common Core standards specifically.

Read the Governor’s letter here.

The following op-ed, co-authored by our policy analyst Josh Daniels, was published this week in the Deseret News.

Regardless of who is elected as president in November, Utah employers will likely “feel the bern” of increased employment costs thanks to a proposed federal rule from the Obama administration dealing with overtime pay.

The Fair Labor Standards Act currently requires employers to pay overtime rates to non-exempt employees who work over 40 hours per week. Exempt employees are usually white-collar, salaried employees who work in professional or administrative functions, including teachers, a shift manager at a small retail store, or the top executive at a Fortune 500 company. Since 2004, salaried employees earning more than $23,660 have been exempt from overtime laws.

President Obama recently directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to “update”—in other words, increase—this threshold by 113% to $50,440. That “update” is nearly five times the inflation rate since 2004. Such a sweeping change is not in fact an update—it’s an aggressive intervention.

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In a nod to the federal government’s oft-ridiculed “Cash for Clunkers” program, Utah is giving away deeply discounted electric lawnmowers in exchange for gas-powered ones.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality held its 2nd Annual lawnmower exchange event last week. This “clean air initiative” is funded by the Utah legislature through the “CARROT” program (Clean Air Retrofit, Replacement, and Off-Road Technology Program) and is administered by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The program seeks to find ways to replace higher emitting vehicles and equipment with lesser emitting alternatives.

This year, the program distributed 944 deeply subsidized electric lawnmowers, many in exchange for existing gas-powered mowers. Based on average lawnmower use and carbon emissions statistics, the program may lead to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 668 tons a year—or 4,676 tons over the seven year life of a lawnmower. This comes at a cost to Utah taxpayers of $52.49 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions removed. For comparison, scholars estimate the social costs of carbon emissions to be between $3 and $24 per ton.

In other words, Utah taxpayers are likely paying double the social costs of carbon emissions to reduce them—notably emissions that are not created during the winter inversion season, either.

Like “Cash for Clunkers,” many consumers are not trading in new gas-powered mowers, but rather mowers they were likely to replace on their own in the near future with newer, more efficient models. Perhaps some may have even purchased electric models to replace older mowers anyway. Enterprising consumers might even proactively purchase barely salvageable used mowers in order to receive the trade-in discount while retaining their existing gas mowers at home.

Like any government intervention in the market, a subsidy merely leads to inefficiencies. In this case, an arbitrary reduction in the price for consumers from $399 to $100 per mower yielded overwhelming demand. Reservations for the nearly 1,000 mowers were exhausted in the first hour, crashing the DEQ servers. News stories called this phenomenon a “success” of the program and described the program as “popular.” In reality, it is merely the operation of basic economic principles—demand for a good increases when its price is lowered, leading to a shortage of supply at prices below market equilibrium.

Ripple effects in the market for used lawnmowers will now be felt for discount shoppers looking for a second-hand mower for the season. Undoubtedly, many likely purchased a used model to qualify for the discounted trade-in price, and others who might have sold an old mower will not be selling this year. Much like “Cash for Clunkers,” the real benefit here is to the lawn mower retailers; the state purchased the mowers from Lowes.

The “Cash for Clunkers” program was also criticized because of the small impact it had on reducing emissions. Some estimates projected the emissions offset to be a mere two days worth of nationwide overall emissions. The Utah mower program has an even smaller impact—it will reduce annual emissions in Utah by 1/1,000th of a percent (0.001%) of statewide emissions.

To put that in perspective, based on emissions statistics for Utah, the amount of emissions reduced by this program is equivalent to eliminating all emissions in the state for 5.5 minutes a year. At a total cost of roughly $250,000 for the mowers, that is an expensive five minutes.

Fortunately for Utah taxpayers, the legislature declined to appropriate more money for the program this year despite a $500,000 request in the Governor’s budget for the continuation of the CARROT program. Unfortunately, not appropriating funds to a government program one year only renders the government program “mostly dead.” Be on the lookout for the state to round up loose change to resurrect programs like these in the future.

Calculations:

30 annual mowings at 25 hours of operation a year for exchanged gas-powered mowers. 1 hour of gas mowing is equal to 100 car miles. 2,500 mi/yr * 23.6 mpg = 105.9322 gal/yr * 19.4 lbs of carbon per gallon = 2,055.08468 lbs of CO2/yr * 7 year useful life of the replacement electric mower (warranty is only 5 years) = 14385.59276 lbs of CO2 offset over the life of the replacement electric mower.

Subtract the carbon emissions (1,176 lbs) of electricity production to charge the replacement electric mower. 30 annual electric mowings. 3.5 KWH to recharge after each mowing * 1.607 lbs of CO2/KWH (Rocky Mountain Power’s carbon emission rate) = 5.6 lbs of carbon per mowing * 30 mowings = 168 lbs of CO2/yr. * 7 yr life (warranty is only 5) = 1,176 lbs of CO2 emissions over 7 years.

Net carbon emission offset of using an electric mower = 13,209.59 lbs (6.6 tons). This is further discounted as only about 75% of electric mowers distributed were accompanied by an exchange of a gas-powered mower being taken out of service.

Total carbon offset of the 944 electric lawnmowers distributed is approximately 4,676.2 tons over 7 years. At a state subsidy of $260/per mower ($399 retail cost, customer pays the state $100 and the state receives a bulk purchase discount from the retailer) the price per ton of carbon offset is $52.49.

Annual carbon emissions in Utah are 66.4 million metric tons. The annual carbon offset for the mower exchange program is 668.03 tons. As a share of Utah’s annual carbon emissions of 66.4M, the annual offset represents 0.00001 (or 0.001%) of emissions.

Poll after poll confirms what is now common knowledge: a majority of Utahns want to see medical cannabis legalized statewide. The latest survey, done by Dan Jones, finds that 66% of adult Utahns support the legal change, while 28% are opposed and only five percent don’t know.

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The ideological breakdown revealed that 90% of Democrats and 76% of independents are in favor, whereas 55% of Republicans support legalizing medical cannabis. Even more “very conservative” respondents are in favor—49% versus 44% of them who oppose.

Despite LDS Church opposition to Senator Madsen’s recent bill, a majority of Mormons still support legalization—55% to 40% in opposition.

With recent legislation having failed, medical cannabis patients and advocates are now looking to file a ballot initiative that would give the option directly to the supportive public, rather than allowing the skeptical House of Representatives to substantially restrict (or opt not to pass) a medical cannabis program.

 

Libertas Institute has two summer research internships available for college students or recent graduates. Join our successful organization to help advance the cause of liberty in Utah!

We are in need of policy research assistance to prepare some of the legislative proposals Libertas will be advancing in the 2017 general session beginning next January.

Job responsibilities

  • Research assigned policies spanning a broad spectrum of subjects
  • Compile, sort, and analyze data
  • Prepare reports and summarize data
  • Write articles on assigned topics

Qualifications

  • Must be interested in and aware of the political process
  • Understanding of, and passion for, liberty
  • High attention to detail
  • Excellent research and writing skills
  • Social media experience

Compensation

These are unpaid positions, though we will gladly work with your school to provide credit if that is an option. Any necessary expenditures related to assigned work will be reimbursed. 

Interns will work in Lehi on a part-time basis, either a morning or afternoon shift.

Application 

Interested students should submit a resumé and two writing samples to info@libertasutah.org with “Research internship application” in the subject line.

The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published this week in the Salt Lake Tribune.

What do public lands and polygamy have in common? While both issues have been at the forefront of Utah politics recently, they share a more fundamental common bond that raises important and controversial constitutional questions.

The Utah Legislature has appropriated millions of taxpayer dollars to mount a legal battle in an attempt to wrest control of large swaths of land from the federal government. This effort is primarily based on one central argument: the “Equal Footing Doctrine.” This doctrine holds that new states admitted to the Union must be considered and treated on equal terms as existing states.

Advocates for state control of public land argue that this doctrine has been violated, given the clear fact that eastern states have almost complete control of public land within their borders, whereas a majority of land in western states, like Utah, has not yet been disposed of by the federal government.

While this argument has been central to the Legislature’s quest for land control, it has not yet been applied to an equally historic and significant issue — that of polygamy.

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Tax Freedom Day is the day when individuals in the entire nation, or state, have earned enough money to pay the total tax bill for the year. It includes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the total income of all individuals.

Last year, Americans were forced to pay $3.28 trillion in federal taxes, and $1.57 trillion in state and local taxes. Here in Utah, Tax Freedom Day arrives on April 20th:

This year’s report by the Tax Foundation reveals an astonishing statistic: Americans collectively spend more on taxes than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined.

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The following op-ed, written by our policy analyst Josh Daniels, was published this week in the Deseret News.

Did you know that the government can legally steal your property without charging you with — let alone convicting you of — a crime? If you didn’t, you’re in a comfortable majority; according to a new poll of 565 Utah voters, conducted last week by Public Policy Polling, 77 percent of Utah voters are unaware of this legal tool called civil asset forfeiture.

Asset forfeiture allows government agents to seize, and permanently retain, items of value they suspect were involved in criminal activity. In these cases, you are not the defendant — your property is, thus leading to court cases such as Salt Lake City v. $20,000 cash. And unlike a criminal case, where you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, a civil asset forfeiture case finds your property guilty at the outset. You can recover it only if you prove its innocence — its lack of involvement in the alleged criminal conduct.

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Salt Lake City, UT (March 16, 2016) — A new poll of Utah voters shows overwhelming opposition to current law that allows police to seize, and prosecutors to forfeit, property from individuals not charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime.

The poll, commissioned by Drug Policy Action and conducted by Public Policy Polling last week, surveyed 565 voters. 77% of respondents indicated that they were unaware of civil asset forfeiture law. When provided a brief summary, 86% indicated that, “Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been charged with a crime.”

“We often discuss civil asset forfeiture with groups of Utahns around the state,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “Without fail, many in the audience are astounded to learn that the government is able to legally steal property from people not charged with any crime. It violates our sense of justice and due process. This poll affirms that most Utahns feel the same way, and that reform is needed to bring state law into alignment with what voters believe.”

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