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As the media and public begin to focus more on taxpayer funding for government schools, one program with very little funding has had an enormous impact on the education those with special needs—an important demographic of children who can often be forgotten in government schools.

The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship was established in 2005 by action of the Utah Legislature and the signature of Governor Jon Huntsman. It provides private school scholarships to K-12 students who have a wide variety of special needs. With a current appropriation of only about $5 million, it serves over 900 children who can then get the specialized education that they need from the institution of their parents’ choice.

Bearing the name of the son of one of the program’s greatest advocates, Cheryl Smith, the program has steadily grown since its inception and is administered by the Utah State Office of Education. The success of the program has been well documented in legislative hearings and reports. Some important statistics include:

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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.

Interlocal agencies, independent entities, special service districts, Associations of Governments (AOG), and conservancy districts—each of these is a type of government-sponsored or -created organization given control of some aspect of administration, localized policy making, or government service. In short, they have control over a portion of your tax dollars and/or your life.

Who are these mysterious organizations that, up until recently, have hidden their operations in the shadows? To be clear, they hold some public meetings, report to the Utah Legislature periodically, and probably even have up-to-date websites. However, they probably would rather you not know about the size of their budgets, nor their too frequent misappropriation of funds.

The average Utahn might recognize these government organizations from the media attention they have received over the past few years:

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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

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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.

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With healthcare on the front of everyone’s minds as Congress continues to formulate a replacement to ObamaCare, here is an idea that could revolutionize the industry and drive costs down tremendously.

One of the largest factors driving up health care costs today is the lack of transparency of the true costs of health care services and the lack of incentives for consumers to pursue high quality, low-cost options. In short, a person doesn’t know how much a certain procedure or test costs and even if they did, they would have zero financial incentive to investigate where to find the best price for that health care service.

This is where having the “Right to Shop” comes into the picture.

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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.”

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Earlier this week, we released a short video about the need to alter the current state statute on domestic violence. As it stands, the statute is a prime example of how too often the law does not judge a person’s intent, but instead only looks to see if the person violated the strict letter of the law. Domestic violence laws are meant to be used to prohibit and punish those who injure or harm others they live with—spouses, partners, roommates, etc.

But as government inevitably does, the current statute goes too far and punishes innocent people. This comes about because in Utah if you “commit any offense against property,” specifically “the property of another,” you are also committing domestic violence. On its face that seems fine, until you think back to your recent joint tax return that you filed and you realize that all your property is jointly owned with your spouse. Therefore, that property you just smashed on the ground is considered to be “the property of another”.

All of a sudden, depending on the cost of the property, you might be looking at charges up to a 2nd degree felony.

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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.

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