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The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published today in the Deseret News.

I once had a neighbor who called the police on the family living next to her. This family was not accused of a heinous crime; no children were at risk, no abuse was happening, and nobody was blasting Taylor Swift at 3 a.m.

The neighbor was reporting that the other family’s weeds were too tall.

While it’s true that the vexatious vegetation was longer than socially acceptable for a residential area, the reliance on law enforcement to address the perceived problem provides an anecdotal illustration of how government intervention erodes community.

While individual rights are important, community is as well. We are social creatures, and our interdependency necessitates that we work with, and live near, other people. Government exists essentially for this purpose — in theory, at least, to help keep the peace between each person.

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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.

The following op-ed, written by our policy director Michael Melendez, was published today in the Deseret News.

Over 130 years ago, Thomas Edison invested in technology and infrastructure to build electric power distribution systems that would power communities and industries using direct current (DC). Initially his DC system was the standard in the United States, but other inventors, like Nikola Tesla, claimed that many of the inefficiencies and limitations of DC systems could be solved using alternating current (AC).

Edison and his investors engaged in a “War of Currents” in order to protect their investment and attempt to eliminate the threat of AC systems. Misplaced fear for public safety, attempts to ban AC system use of light bulbs, and frivolous lawsuits were just a few of the protectionist tactics used by DC advocates. Though AC did eventually triumph in the 1890s, it wasn’t until 2007 that the last commercial DC system was decommissioned.

Just this week, there was an important development in a current protectionist battle involving a popular vehicle company named after AC advocate Nikola Tesla. The Utah Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Utah’s franchise laws that prevent a “wholly owned subsidiary of a motor vehicle manufacturer from obtaining a license to sell the manufacturer’s new motor vehicles in stores in Utah.” In other words, Tesla Motors cannot legally sell cars directly to you, the consumer. Instead they must use an archaic dealership model that legally imposes middlemen between you and the vehicle manufacturer of your choice, Tesla or otherwise.

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

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” quipped Gideon Tucker, a judge in New York, in 1866. Each year, the Utah Legislature offers abundant evidence of the truthfulness of this judicial observation.

As noted in Jonathan Johnson’s op-ed today, the Legislature passed several tax increases, reflecting an entitlement mentality that pervades the Capitol — the state must get what it’s due.

In what might be called conservative cognitive dissonance, the same elected officials who pick-pocketed Utahns also enacted laws that freed up the market. And while it’s easy to criticize those who incrementally siphon away our hard-earned income, we should also pause to praise the positive outcomes that will help thousands of Utahns.

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This bill passed the Senate 25-2 but did not get a vote in the House.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

When Senate Bill 255 was originally published, it contained a long overdue process to put a freeze on the flow of dedicated public K-12 education funding to higher education institutions. Unfortunately the powerful higher education lobby quickly shut down that idea and instead this bill has been replaced with a much worse proposal: a property tax increase!

Senator Howard Stephenson is sponsoring SB 255 as a way to raise funds for public education. While his original intention was good (and we agree that higher education should no longer receive support through the income tax), this revised bill hits Utah taxpayers with another tax increase. Specifically, the bill freezes the rate of the basic property levy for 5 years, which will cause an effective property tax increase of $20 million.

Instead of fiddling with the tax code to try and please the Our Schools Now initiative (which seeks to raise $750 million for public education through new taxes on Utahns), the Utah Legislature should look at ways to apply disruptive innovation to the archaic learning model that continues to inhabit government schools. Utahns have suffered through too many tax increases (including a $75 million property tax increase) in the last few years and now is not the time to implement another.

This bill passed the House 55-14, but did not reach a vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

At a time when it seems like everyone is talking about raising every tax you can think of (income, food, internet sales, tourism, gas, property, etc.), very few are looking for ways to improve Utah’s economy by creating a more business friendly environment. As new businesses are created, existing businesses locate facilities in Utah, and new jobs are created, the amount of tax revenue for Utah increases without any need to raise taxes.

Using an elective single sales factor for corporate income taxes is one promising idea for creating a more business friendly climate in Utah. Since complete elimination of the state corporate income tax is a non-starter, this type of tax policy is a great step in the right direction.

Companies that choose to use the single sales factor would pay state corporate income taxes based on the amount of sales they make in Utah. This attracts new companies to locate in Utah if they rely mostly on exporting goods to other states or around the world. These exporting companies are typically high wage companies like manufacturers, IT, mining, and other basic industry.

Representative Dan McCay is sponsoring House Bill 377 this year to implement a single sales factor that companies could choose instead of using the evenly weighted three-factor formula to calculate state corporate income tax. This change in tax policy will help Utah remain competitive with other states that are also reconsidering their formulas for state corporate income taxes.

This Bill passed the Senate 23-5 and the House 62-7.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In 2015, along with the Utah Taxpayers Association, we sued the state seeking to overturn a clearly unconstitutional law requiring disclosure of information about our donors. With the help of the great attorneys at the Center for Competitive Politics, who represented our organizations in this lawsuit, we were able to come to a a settlement with the state of Utah.

House Bill 43, passed by the legislature in 2013, was sponsored in response to a political consultant’s illegal use of non-profit organizations to hide the identity of the source of his donors—from the payday lending industry—to fund a negative campaign against Representative Brad Daw, who had sought to regulate the industry’s practices. The bill passed the Senate 20-8 and passed the House 60-13.

The law compelled private non-profit organizations—such as Libertas Institute—to publicly disclose the personal information of their donors when the organization spends $750 or more on political activity in a single year. This created a substantial chilling effect, harming our potential to raise funds from people who may not wish to be publicly identified with their ideological and financial support, whether for family, business, religious, or personal reasons.

In response to the settlement, Senator Lyle Hillyard has agreed to sponsor Senate Bill 275 to repeal HB 43 in its entirety so that the statute will reflect the agreed settlement. As the floor sponsor for HB 43, we applaud him for his willingness to correct the law.

You can read further about our arguments against HB 43 in an op-ed we co-authored with our co-plaintiff in the Salt Lake Tribune.

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

Chances are you’ve seen the billboards asking Utahns to “Stop the Opidemic.” This marketing effort aims to help people understand that the opiate overdose crisis has reached epidemic levels.

The program is well-intentioned, and opiates pose a significant problem. Utah has an alarmingly high number of deaths due to these addictive and dangerous drugs. On average, 24 Utahns die every single month from overdosing on opiates. Something needs to change.

But is the marketing campaign the right way to effect real change?

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This Bill passed the Senate 58-10 and the House 53-17. The governor signed this Bill into law.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Utah’s “Zion Curtain” law compels restaurants to create an opaque barrier between where patrons sit and where alcoholic drinks are mixed. Proponents argue this is beneficial and necessary in order to keep children from seeing said alcohol. Previous reform efforts have stalled, in part because the legislature is unwilling to substantively reform Utah’s alcohol laws without the agreement of the LDS Church, which has supported the “Zion Curtain.”

Yet for all the complaints over this policy, it actually applies only to a minority of restaurants. When the law was passed in 2009, all existing restaurants were grandfathered in and therefore did not have to create the barrier.

That would all change under House Bill 442, sponsored by Representative Brad Wilson, which would eliminate the exemption and compel all restaurants that serve alcohol to choose between either the “Zion Curtain” or a newly established “Zion Moat” which requires “at least 10 feet from any area where alcoholic product is dispensed to the dining area and any waiting area, measured from the point of the area where alcoholic product is dispensed that is closest to the dining area or waiting area.”

In other words, restaurants have to either install a costly barrier to hide the booze or rearrange their interior such that tables are further than 10 feet away from the bar.

The bill also includes a number of other changes, including a 2% increase in the already steep tax imposed upon alcoholic beverages. For example, the tax on spirits goes from 86% to 88%. (If you’re in the military, you’re in luck—the legislature caps the markup to soldiers at a comparatively low 17%.)

Utah’s confusing, arbitrary, and unjust alcohol laws need major reforms, but this bill complicates matters in a negative way. Many restaurants enjoy a freedom under existing law that would be removed, compelling them all to create unnecessary barriers at a significant cost. We oppose this bill.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | No comments

SB 250: Food Truck Freedom

This Bill passed the Senate 23-1 and the House 73-0.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In a public policy brief late last year, we outlined the many regulatory burdens faced by food truck owners throughout Utah as a result of duplicative and redundant ordinances and fees required of them by city governments.

To respond to this concern, Senator Deidre Henderson has sponsored Senate Bill 250, which would streamline these regulations, eliminate redundancy, and prohibit problematic city regulations.

Specifically, this bill would:

  • establish a reciprocity system so food truck owners don’t have to obtain a business license in each city in which they desire to operate;
  • prohibit cities from establishing protectionist boundaries around restaurants in which food trucks are denied the opportunity to operate;
  • prohibit cities from denying a business license for a food truck on the basis of the applicant’s criminal history;
  • require that counties honor health and fire permits issued in other counties; and
  • streamline event permits and other regulations.

This is a great start towards freeing up the market for food truck owners who currently struggle to succeed.