Unless there is an emergency, the Salt Lake County Council wants all votes on proposed sales and use tax increases to take place in a general election year.
"We just want as many voters as possible engaged in the process of raising taxes or not raising taxes," said Democratic Council Sam Granato, who teamed with Republican Councilman Richard Snelgrove to sponsor an ordinance to maximize public participation in tax matters directly impacting pocketbooks.
Snelgrove noted that the ordinance prohibits tax-related elections from being held in conjunction with municipal elections, although it allows a supermajority vote (six of nine) of the council to waive the ban in an emergency, such as after an earthquake.
This approach, he said, helps assure that the largest number of people have a say-so on matters affecting all county residents. In addition, Snelgrove said "UTA and others that may want to impose a sales tax" would have to provide the County Council with "a more compelling argument" if they hoped to hold a public vote in an odd-numbered year.
"This simply brings more transparency," Snelgrove said.
"With big tax decisions, we need as many people to vote on it as possible," concurred GOP Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton.
But to Democratic Councilman Randy Horiuchi, the ordinance represented a further abdication by the County Council of its authorization to act on behalf of the people who elected its members.
"Why do we exist?" raved the excitable councilman. "We’ve handcuffed the ability of this elected body … ceded away our decision-making [authority] to strange, demagogic measures likes this.
"It’s not that this is a bad measure," Horiuchi continued. "There’s good in it. I see it. But it’s demagogic, trying to empower [people] to vote by making it more convenient. We’re taking authority away from us and giving it to voters who don’t want to come out in an off year."
It’s far more than that, countered Council Chairman Michael Jensen, a Republican, contending the 164,000 residents of the unincorporated area are largely disenfranchised if a tax matter is put onto the ballot in a municipal-election year when they otherwise would have no interest.
He endorsed the Granato/Snelgrove position that the ordinance is good public policy, sending the electorate a clear message that sales-tax matters will be decided only in general-election years.
"This will let the public know there’s no shenanigans," he added, "and [they] won’t have to worry that we’re going to slip something through in a low-turnout year."
Horiuchi stood alone in voting against the ordinance, which passed with five affirmatives. Republican Councilman Max Burdick abstained, saying "I’m undecided now."
Burdick originally supported the measure but said he developed concerns that lower-profile issues such as sales tax hikes could get "lost in the clutter" of a politically charged general election.
"Are we restricting the rights of individuals to bring initiatives to the people?" Burdick questioned before abstaining.
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