Michelle Quist: Listen to the people and keep Proposition 3

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Ray Ward speaks during the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting in the House Building, Tuesday, February 2, 2016.

Over the last few years I spent a considerable amount of time arguing that the citizen-initiative process is not the best way to govern because there’s no accountability and there are likely to be unexpected consequences.

I opined that the fact that an initiative got on the ballot didn’t prove that the people wanted it, but that moneyed interests were successful in obtaining signatures.

I argued that we couldn’t conclude that voters were dissatisfied with legislators unless and until the initiative actually passed.

Boy did I get pie in my face.

All three initiatives on the ballot this past November passed.

If I were a legislator, my take-away would not be that I needed to make the initiative process harder, or to proclaim that voters aren’t smart enough to know what I know. My take-away would be that I was the disconnect — that I had lost touch with what voters wanted.

This past summer my dad asked me how I voted on the initiatives. I was surprised to learn how he voted. He joked that we basically canceled each other out.

He was for Better Boundaries, and I was against it. I’m still convinced it’s bad legislation that creates an ineffectual task force that uses partisan interests – the very thing it was trying to protect us from.

He was against Prop 2, authorizing medical marijuana, and I was for Prop 2. He had lived in Colorado and saw some pretty big negatives with marijuana.

The position that surprised me the most was that he supported Prop 3, and I did not.

My dad has worked in hospital administration for almost 50 years. He’s even a hospital administrator in his retirement at 73 (he acts as an interim CEO every few years for 3-6 months when hospitals transition between leadership).

My dad reminded me that hospitals get killed by covering patients without insurance, and that approving Medicaid would change everything, even with a hospital assessment.

I, on the other hand, worried Prop 3 would leave the state open to unaffordable cost increases just a few years down the road.

But here’s the thing. Utah voters passed it. And the Legislature needs to slow down its fast-tracked steamroller over what everyone can argue is the true will of Utah voters.

Less than a month after they rewrite Prop 2, which is currently before the Utah Supreme Court, Utah senators announce their replacement for Prop 3, a program that will cover less people and cost more to do it, unless and until they secure a fairy-land magical wavier from the federal government, which they have never been able to do.

To justify overriding Prop 3 with their own program, legislators say Prop 3 will create a $65 million deficit in 2024.

Hmmm. It seems that if the Legislature was committed to honoring the will of the people, it would allow implementation now and figure out the problem that may arise in five years.

Oh, and there probably won’t even be a shortfall. As Robert Gehrke pointed out, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is running a bill that would fix an inflation adjustment formula in Prop 3 so that the program will run a surplus for the next five years, enough to build up a $195 million reserve fund.

There’s also evidence of positive impacts on state economies where Medicaid was approved, even states where enrollment was much higher than expected.

The fact is, a majority of Utahns voted to pass Prop 3 and expand Medicaid. They also voted to increase taxes to pay for it. It follows that Utah should expand Medicaid.

What is going to protect us from the will of the minority in this case? Oh wait … that’s not how that inquiry goes.

I’m glad the Legislature is being responsible in its fiscal management. But implement Prop 3 now and work out the fixes. Don’t create the false question of do we want Medicaid expansion or do we want the budget balanced?

We can have both.

And, Utahns want Medicaid. Full stop.

The Senate passed the bill this week, which is troubling. We usually rely on the Senate to halt runaway legislation.

Representatives, please listen to your constituents and respect them. Don’t put your hands up in their faces and say sorry, we know better.

That never ends well.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.