Salt Lake City, UT (June 6, 2017) — Today, a group calling themselves “Our Schools Now” announced the filing of a ballot initiative that, if successful, would increase the income and sales tax rates of hard-working and already over-taxed Utahns.
In response, Libertas Institute’s Director of Policy Michael Melendez issued the following statement:
The corporate elite of Utah have finally decided how they want to reach into taxpayers’ pockets, and, instead of offering any real solutions, they remain committed to the same worn-out, disproven tax hike band-aid.
Additional funding to government schools must be tied to a real change in the philosophy of education in classrooms.
This income and sales tax hike will hit lower- and middle-class Utahns the hardest at a time when their tax burden has increased substantially in recent years, such as for gas, property, and purchases.
We need to have a real discussion in Utah about the priorities for the state’s $16 billion budget. Instead, this initiative will be a major distraction—and one that existing data suggests will not actually increase education outcomes, as its proponents claim.
Libertas Institute’s president, Connor Boyack, has separately written about how past increases in education funding have not led to better outcomes.
Should enough signatures be gathered to place this issue on the ballot, our organization intends to educate Utah voters as to why this harmful tax increase will not lead to the promises and claims made by its supporters.
Salt Lake City, UT (April 14, 2017) — In a hearing last month, the Utah State Records Committee unanimously agreed with our appeal seeking the release of the secret agreement between the Utah State Tax Commission and Amazon, following two denials by the Commission of our request.
The document was released today and can be accessed here.
Libertas Institute president Connor Boyack issued the following statement:
From the beginning of this effort we have contended that an agreement made by our government should be public to the Utahns that government serves. We are pleased to have successfully obtained and released this document for the public to review.
Organizations outside of Utah have similarly been seeking their state’s agreement without success. We hope that release of this document will encourage transparency among other state tax commissions.
While some have speculated that this agreement might contain something nefarious or “shady,” Libertas Institute’s only assertion has been that the document should be public as a matter of course. Upon review of the document, we find nothing problematic contained in what was released.
Salt Lake City, UT (January 17, 2017) — Last month, Libertas Institute filed a GRAMA request seeking a copy of the “confidential” tax agreement between the State of Utah and Amazon. The request was denied.
We appealed the decision to the executive director of the Utah State Tax Commission and yesterday received a denial, citing 63G-2-305(1) and (2)—provisions of GRAMA law that allow the government to keep a document “protected” for reasons of protecting “trade secrets” or avoiding “competitive injury.” See the denial here.
The following statement may be attributed to Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute:
Salt Lake City, UT (October 5, 2016) — A new report released this morning by the Cato Institute grades each state’s governor on fiscal policy and state budget actions since 2014. Governor Gary Herbert received a “D” grade, coming in at number 33 among the 50 states for best fiscal policy.
The report notes that Herbert’s low grade “stems mainly from his large spending increases”—a seven percent increase to the general fund budget in 2015 and more than a nine percent increase in 2016. State government employment has dramatically risen during Herbert’s time in office, growing 20 percent since he became governor in 2009.
The report comes on the heels of the Institute’s “50 Freest States” report, which ranked Utah the 20th best state for fiscal policy.
Salt Lake City, UT (August 16, 2016) — A new report issued by the Cato Institute, Freedom in the 50 States, highlights the degree to which states protect the personal and economic freedom of their citizens. Utah was ranked 20th.
The report—first published in 2009 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University—grades states in three areas:
- Fiscal policy: taxes, government employment, spending, debt, and fiscal decentralization
- Regulatory policy: liability system, property rights, health insurance, and labor market
- Personal freedom: a variety of categories including incarceration rates, marriage laws, education, guns, and alcohol
The report notes that “Utah does very well on regulatory policy overall” and “generally well on criminal justice policy,” though “quite poorly on alcohol, cannabis, gambling, and tobacco.”
Salt Lake City, UT (August 11, 2016) — The federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced today that it would not remove marijuana, or cannabis, from “Schedule 1,” which classifies it as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use.” In response, Libertas Institute president Connor Boyack issued the following statement:
Earlier this year, the Utah legislature shot down a comprehensive, well-regulated, and patient-oriented medical cannabis proposal that would have provided safe, legal access to thousands of sick Utahns needing cannabis. During the legislative session, many elected officials expressed a preference in instead asking the federal government to reschedule cannabis.
Today’s announcement by the DEA shows the futility of deferring to the federal government on this issue (in violation of the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Meanwhile, patients in Utah illegal using this alternative medicine continue to be criminalized. That is unacceptable.
We encourage the Utah Legislature to reconsider their actions and proactively provide these patients with legal protection from the criminal justice system—especially in light of the federal government’s misguided and self-interested refusal.
Utah is now in a minority of states that make the medicinal use of cannabis a crime. It’s time to find a consensus on this issue for the benefit of the suffering Utahns who need it.
Salt Lake City, UT (July 13, 2016) — A lawsuit filed last November by the Utah Taxpayers Association and Libertas Institute, represented by attorneys from the Center for Competitive Politics, has now reached a mutually agreeable settlement.
The lawsuit alleged that House Bill 43, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2013, was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by seeking to compel non-profit organizations, for whom political activity is not a primary purpose, to disclose detailed information about their private donors.
In the settlement, the defendants recognize and agree that the law is “unconstitutional” as applied to our organizations, since political advocacy is not our major purpose. The state also agrees that House Bill 43 will not be enforced against organizations such as ours who engage “in constitutionally protected political advocacy and political issues advocacy.”
“House Bill 43, while well meaning, was reactionary legislation that resulted in our organization being unable to engage in the public square on an important ballot proposition,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “This chilling effect was palpable and threatened to undermine our ability to educate Utahns in the future. We are pleased with the outcome that not only protects the free association and speech of our organizations as plaintiffs, but organizations throughout Utah as well.”
The settlement makes clear the following:
- The state will not enforce HB43 against non-profit organizations who engage “in constitutionally protected political advocacy and political issues advocacy,” recognizing that doing so would be “unconstitutional unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose.” In other words, 501(c)3 nonprofits that engage in political advocacy on a limited, infrequent basis (as in our case) are exempt from prosecution.
- Exempted organizations in Utah—not just our organizations as plaintiffs—will not be fined or criminally charged for failing to comply with the provisions of HB43.
- By the end of 2016, the state’s publications, websites, and other information about disclosure requirements will be changed to not indicate in any way that exempted organizations are required to disclose the information required by HB43.
- Past, current, or future violations of HB43 by our organizations will not be prosecuted.
- The consent decree (settlement) is an enforceable contract that can be used by us or another organization in the future as may be necessary, should the state violate its agreement not to enforce the law.
Given the state’s decision to no longer enforce key provisions of the law, we expect the Utah Legislature to amend the law in the 2017 General Session to align statute with the terms of today’s settlement.
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.”
Salt Lake City, UT (December 16, 2015) — Libertas Institute is pleased to announce a new proposal to amend Utah’s Constitution to protect property rights. The proposed amendment—a single word—will be sponsored as priority legislation by Representative Mel Brown.
Libertas Institute has published a new policy brief explaining the history of the issue, details of the proposed single-word amendment, along with examples that the amendment would address. A copy was delivered to each legislator last week.
“It’s widely believed that property rights are a fundamental aspect of good government,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “But our research, along with conversations with land use attorneys, property owners, and city officials, makes clear one simple fact: they don’t actually exist to the degree most people would expect.”
“This constitutional amendment, though simple, is significant,” Boyack continued. “Property rights protections are out of balance, and judges lack the ability to overturn the actions of neighbors or cities that violate this right, simply because there is no relevant constitutional language. We’re hoping to fix that with this proposal.”
The policy brief highlights an example from the town of Virgin, Utah, where a land owner’s investment of millions of dollars to build an RV park was roadblocked due to a narrow majority of neighbors succeeding in a referendum to overturn the town council’s action and shut down the owner’s ability to develop his property. The land remains vacant. Read more here.
The constitutional amendment aims to balance a property owner’s right against the city’s ability to arbitrarily restrict this right, unless a compelling state interest can be shown in protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.
“For years we’ve heard and collected stories of people’s property rights being violated in Utah, and now we’re excited to offer a simple solution that will restore balance between a property owner’s rights, and the interests of city government,” said Josh Daniels, policy analyst at Libertas Institute. “We are confident that the legislature will recognize the importance of this amendment and submit it favorably to Utah voters on the 2016 ballot.”
Salt Lake City, UT (December 2, 2015) — Libertas Institute announced today the results of a new, unique research project—the first of its kind in the country. The “Freest Cities Index” analyzes Utah’s top 50 most populous cities on over 100 metrics dealing with city laws and fees to analyze in which city Utahns will enjoy the most freedom.
Freest City: Heber City
Least Free City: Salt Lake City
The Freest Cities Index uses statistical weighting and calculation to compute a relative score to determine each city’s ranking. Broken into three categories—individual liberty, private property rights, and free markets—the Index includes metrics such as: free speech, gun regulations, alcohol sales, city debt, business permit fees, sales taxes, city-owned enterprises, and many more.
Libertas Institute has placed two billboards in the winning and losing cities. The Salt Lake City billboard is located one block east of City Hall — along 400 South, between 200 and 300 East.
High quality photos can be downloaded at this link. Permission is granted for publication/broadcast use.
“Our report contains a treasure trove of data on cities,” said Josh Daniels, a policy analyst at Libertas Institute who oversaw the research team for the project. “In two minutes, Utahns can quickly get up to speed on how their city performs on a wide range of issues, relative to other cities. Nothing like this has ever been done, and we’re thrilled to provide this service to our fellow Utahns.”
“City governments throughout the state are in sore need of transparency and accountability,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “We routinely hear from Utahns who are frustrated with their city yet lack the knowledge or time to investigate the issues that matter. This Index provides a huge leap forward in both educating and empowering individuals throughout Utah to make a positive change in their community.”
The “2015 Freest City” award was presented to the Heber City Council on November 19, 2015. Click below for a photo:
High quality photos can be downloaded at this link. Permission is granted for publication/broadcast use.
Full results, including the detailed data spreadsheets, can be found at FreestCities.org.