Libertas Institute Op-Eds

How to Lose the Fight for Religious Freedom

July 18, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Daily Herald.

Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel for the LDS Church, spoke last week to a crowd concerned about religious freedom. In his remarks, he outlined a strategy for winning the fight for religious freedom. While the goal is an important one that I and many Utahns share, I worry that the strategy is unlikely to succeed.

Before explaining why, consider an analogy. Imagine we’re in a war. Some people decide that we need to use soldiers to defend the munitions factory so that the enemy can’t destroy our ability to produce weapons. While a phalanx of guards protect this factory, the enemy destroys the barely-guarded mines from which the factory receives the raw materials necessary to create the weapons. Now all that’s left is a well-guarded shell of a building that isn’t worth much, since the materials are missing.

This is effectively the strategy that Elder Wickman advocated — a narrow focus on, and prioritization of, a “core” of religious freedoms. Outside of that inner circle reside freedoms that deserve less of our attention and effort if religious freedom is to be preserved, he claimed.

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Taxing carried interest a bad idea for Utah’s Silicon Slopes

June 17, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

The only things certain in life are death and taxes. Rarely, however, do you find a tax plan bad enough to guarantee them both. Such is the nature of the proposed scheme to double taxes on capital investment through the deceptive cry to close the so-called “carried interest loophole.” This proposal could kill growth on Utah’s “Silicon Slopes” — a growing nexus of tech ventures along the Wasatch Front.

Under current tax law, investment fund managers pay ordinary income taxes on management fees and capital gains taxes on carried interest — a type of gain on the value growth of the investment. Tax policies that treat investment gains differently than income are designed to incentivize savings and investment — critical factors in the equation for economic growth.

Lobbyists for this enormous tax hike call those who disagree “ideologues” and “zealots” with “dogmatic views” and insist that we need to double these taxes in the name of “equality” and “fairness” and to reduce the deficit. However, not only would this policy not make a significant dent in the deficit, it would reduce capital investment while causing pension funds, university investment funds and charitable funds to take a hit.

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Homeowners Have the Right to Share Their Property

May 31, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

The self-styled “sharing economy” has brought innovation and efficiency to a number of industries in Utah, each of which has struggled to navigate byzantine and protectionist policies. Uber and Lyft drivers were fined $6,500 each time investigators discovered them until the state legislature legalized their operation. Zenefits was shut down from offering their innovative services until the backlash led to swift change in the Utah Department of Insurance. And still, Tesla remains unable to sell their new vehicles directly to Utah drivers.

Add Airbnb and VRBO to the list. These companies facilitate “short-term rentals”—offering a space in one’s home for a couple days or weeks at a time. While long-term rentals (30 or more days) are generally legal throughout the state, their short-term counterparts are not shown the same hospitality. In many cities, they are restricted to the point of effectively being banned.

So much for property rights.

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New labor rule may harm Utah’s economy and increase education costs

April 29, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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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Amend Utah constitution to decriminalize polygamy

April 11, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

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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Legalized theft needs statewide reform

March 25, 2016  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

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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Why we’re suing the state to protect free speech

November 23, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed was published this past weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Free speech and free association are among our most fundamental and important rights. Unfortunately, the Utah Legislature reactively passed legislation that substantially jeopardizes them. The organizations we represent—the Utah Taxpayers Association and the Libertas Institute—filed a lawsuit today in an effort to have that law declared unconstitutional.

House Bill 43, passed in the 2013 legislative session, forces educational organizations to abide by reporting requirements similar to those for candidates and PACs, compelling detailed disclosure of donors for publication in an online database. The bill was passed in response to a political consultant’s seemingly illegal use of non-profit organizations to attack Representative Brad Daw while hiding the source of the campaign’s donors: the payday lending industry which Representative Daw had attempted to regulate.

While the Legislature may have been well intentioned in passing HB 43 in an attempt to halt situations similar to what happened to Representative Daw, the fix turned out to be a situation of taking a sledgehammer to an issue where a scalpel was needed. While it makes sense to require disclosure from organizations whose primary or sole purpose is political—as they directly affect government processes and outcomes—the bill expanded the reporting requirements to include organizations whose political advocacy is infrequent and, more often than not, focused on advocacy and education.

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Innovation, Not Medicaid Expansion, is the Right Health Care Reform

November 4, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed was published this past weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Political support for Medicaid expansion in Utah is on life support and the prognosis may be terminal. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a pathway forward for those looking for health care solutions. That pathway is the same one that has solved many of our problems — innovation.

Each Medicaid expansion proposal has been a reaction to the failure of federal policy in attempting to address the “coverage gap.” But the gap is only a symptom of the underlying disease. The Affordable Care Act did little to actually make care affordable. In fact, it aggravated the very conditions that have driven health care costs up: regulation and government intervention. Obamacare put more patients into the system with no corresponding increase in practitioners, while also forcing insurance plans to cover more services —making them less like insurance and more like full service warranties.

We now expect our health insurance to pay for every medical service we use and yet are shocked when its cost becomes unaffordable. We don’t expect our car insurance to pay for oil changes or our homeowners insurance to pay for lawn service — why do we expect our health insurance to pay for routine doctor visits?

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Parents and public left out of the education policy loop

October 5, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  3 comments

The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune. It is a condensed version of a letter sent to members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee last week.

Utah law affirms that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.” If you’re a parent of a child in public school, this is more theory than practice—without your consent, and likely without your knowledge, the state is collecting large amounts of data on your child in a centralized database, and sharing that information with corporations and the federal government.

In 2009, former Governor Jon Huntsman signed an application to the U.S. Department of Education, the purpose of which was to obtain federal “stimulus” dollars. Without legislative authorization or guarantee, the Governor unilaterally made four assurances to the federal government—a required step in order to receive any money. Among other policy commitments, the assurances included a binding promise to “establish a longitudinal data system.” Within a year’s time, Utah had been showered with $742 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

Utah lawmakers—and thus the public at large—were left out of the loop. This trend continued, with the Utah State Office of Education receiving a $9.6 million grant to create the Utah Data Alliance—a conglomerate of state agencies managing the database with your child’s information. Their operations are not governed by state or federal law, but only by the promises made in the grant application and a “memorandum of understanding” between Alliance members.

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Why Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Business

July 6, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed by our vice president, DJ Schanz, was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

By their own admission, many same-sex marriage proponents view the Supreme Court’s recent ruling more as the beginning—and certainly not the end—of a larger legislative and judicial war. This contention has exhausted hundreds of millions of dollars and man hours. Even worse, it has turned neighbors into enemies.

You don’t see such hostility between Mormons and Catholics regarding the form and method of baptism. The former church believes that baptizing infants is a “mockery before God” whereas the latter considers it “an immemorial tradition of the Church.” Each group disagrees with the other, but not to the point of bitterness and public strife.

Obviously, there is no government definition of baptism; one denomination has not been able to impose its doctrinal position on their peers through the force of law. As such, there is no attempt to wrest control of political power to modify and expand that definition to be more inclusive. Each group operates in a “live and let live” fashion, using persuasion to convince others.

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