Libertas Institute Op-Eds

Tax increase would offer little change, only more confusion

August 30, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by our director of policy Michael Melendez, was published this week by The Deseret News.

Another year, another proposal to increase taxes — and this time, it’s a group called Our Schools Now asking Utahns to raise their taxes to the tune of $700 million. The initiative proposal seems simple enough: let’s give more money to teachers and their classrooms. And like a doctor to a child receiving a shot, they say “it’ll only hurt a little bit.”

But if we were to get into the nitty gritty details of the initiative, is this claim true? What does this initiative actually do and how will it affect your family?

First, the initiative seeks to raise $700 million in tax revenue by increasing the income and sales tax rates. These increases may seem harmless, and Our Schools Now describes them as a “.5 percent” and “.45 percent” increase. But the reality is that the effective tax increase will be closer to 15 percent for the average Utah family, relative to what we currently pay.

This leads to the first problem. If you are currently paying income taxes, the poorer you are, the harder you are going to get hit by these tax increases. Only the wealthy will pay the supposed 10 percent income tax increase that Our Schools Now is promoting. Because of deductions, the less you make, the higher that percentage climbs.

Read more »

Utah needs a constitutional amendment to protect electronic data

August 4, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by our research intern Molly Davis, was published today in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In the digital era, our private lives are often stored within our mobile devices. In a surveillance state, law enforcement can access these devices like an open book.

While technology continues to change how people behave and interact, government policies often remain stagnant. And while laws and regulations usually don’t keep up, law enforcement agencies do a decent job—meaning that the government takes advantage of modern technology for surveillance and law enforcement, while privacy protections for you and I lag behind.

Consider the case of the stingray—a mobile phone surveillance gadget utilized by law enforcement to intercept and store a person’s phone calls, texts, emails, and location. These devices collect information from everyone in the vicinity, allowing the government to access private and potentially sensitive information about countless innocent individuals.

Up until 2014—seven years after the first iPhone was released—there was no clearly defined federal privacy protections regarding an individual’s electronic data. In Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a search warrant was required in order to look through the digital contents of a person’s cell phone upon his or her arrest.  Note that this ruling applies only to arrested persons who have their phone confiscated when arrested; government agents routinely surveil people who have not been arrested.

Read more »

Is Utah ready for tiny homes?

July 25, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

The American dream of homeownership has had a rough time over the past 10 years — a housing bubble, economic recession, changing preferences among millennials and now a housing shortage here in Utah.

The number of people who opt to rent rather than buy a home is now at an all-time high, and prices are skyrocketing. Affordable housing has become so scarce that many around the country are looking at a new option: so-called “tiny homes.”

What up until the last few years seemed like a temporary fad has become an ever-growing phenomenon around the country, expanding far beyond the handful of TV shows that have highlighted tiny homes. Young couples just starting out and empty-nesters who are tired of all the upkeep of a large home increasingly see them as a cost-effective alternative.

Tiny homes tend to be smaller than 500 square feet and can be built on the ground or on wheels. They often consist of a loft bedroom, small bathroom, small kitchen and a common area. They can be customized, moved, and used for a variety of circumstances, including being powered using only solar power.

There is just one minor problem: most local governments do not allow them.

Read more »

Can the free market help solve homelessness in Utah?

May 28, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by our policy director Michael Melendez, was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Remember that time a couple years ago when the whole country thought that Utah solved chronic homelessness?

In light of the intense debate that has recently occurred regarding new homeless shelters, that appears to have been “fake news.” Unfortunately, Utah’s counting methods ended up giving everyone the wrong impression.

Fast forward to this year, where the Utah Legislature allocated $20 million to help fund the building of new homeless shelters, the locations of which spurred contentious debate (to put it lightly). All this disagreement among those trying to influence and decide how taxpayer resources are used to address this important issue may leave one wondering if there is a role for the free market and private charity to play

Read more »

Sheriffs’ Misguided Policy on Medical Cannabis

May 16, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson continues to advocate for a costly, destructive and failed “war on drugs.” He claims, in a written policy, that legalizing cannabis for medicinal use would “create thousands of victims.”

Has he not paid attention to the victims created by the criminalization he supports?

Even more audaciously, the sheriff claims that medical cannabis would “further the destruction of the family unit” because of addiction and “family dysfunction.” (Because prescription drugs don’t contribute to any of that, of course.)

Is the sheriff not paying attention to Utah’s opiate crisis, which claimed the lives of nearly 400 Utahns last year? Perhaps he does not know that according to The Journal of the American Medical Association, based on studies from other states that have legalized medical cannabis, that rate could plummet by 25 percent.

That’s around eight Utahns whose lives could be saved each month.

Read more »

Utah’s selective application of religious freedom

May 9, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

The sounding call of religious freedom and the importance of protecting it have been fervently preached and advocated here in Utah — both in churches on Sunday and in the Capitol during recent legislative sessions. This important subset of individual rights is absolutely important.

Religious groups in our state have provided much in the way of valuable discourse designed to protect religious freedom. Many would argue that this insistence stems from the unique history of persecution and hostility faced by many of our pioneer ancestors.

The Mormon tradition of strong support for religious liberty began with the LDS Church’s founder. Joseph Smith once said, “It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”

Read more »

Government intervention erodes community

April 28, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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.

Read more »

The Utah Legislature should allow Tesla to compete

April 6, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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.

Read more »

Here’s five free-market victories from the legislature

March 21, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

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.

Read more »

‘Opidemic’ ad campaign doesn’t help, but medical cannabis would

February 27, 2017  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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?

Read more »