Local volunteers rounded up signatures throughout the county Saturday to dispute Utah’s recently passed tax reform package.
Groups pushing for a tax referendum popped up just days after the tax reform bill was passed during a special session of the Utah legislature in December 2019. The reform was prompted by shifting consumer habits and will cut overall state taxes by an estimated $160 million, but critics have taken aim at it for a number of reasons, including a higher tax on groceries.
Now, less than a month later, signature-gathering events are spreading across the state and are even gathering some momentum here in Cache Valley.
The statewide goal is to gather 116,000 signatures by Jan. 21 in order to reach the required threshold. If that goal is reached, the new tax law would go on a ballot in 2020 for voters to consider.
Craig Bowden is coordinating events in Cache County and was witnessing signatures at the Hyrum Library on Saturday while a steady stream of local community members stopped by in support of the referendum.
“It has been huge. At the kickoff event last week we had a line literally out the door,” Bowden said. “We are definitely doing our best to fight to get us there. I have decided to call it a poly-partisan effort because people from all walks of life come out and support: millionaires and poor people. Students and teachers, politicians and businesspeople. There are people coming out that I would normally disagree with. On this, we stand together.”
At the same time Bowden was helping people in Hyrum, four other volunteers had tables set up at the Logan Library, where there were lines of people waiting to sign the petition.
Bowden and many of the other volunteers found out about the effort when they were invited to check out the tax referendum group on Facebook by friends or family.
“As I was learning more about the tax referendum efforts and saw how many people from so many different backgrounds were coming together, I knew I had to do something,” Bowden said.
In order for Cache County to contribute to the effort, 4,560 signatures need to be gathered. Bowden, however, is hoping to collect 6,800 signatures.
When Gov. Gary Herbert signed the controversial bill, he said it was necessary to address the evolving dynamics of the economy to meet future needs.
“They discussed so many different options through the course of the public hearings, but what they have come down to doesn’t look like it will have a tremendous impact on us locally,” said Logan Mayor Holly Daines. “There is no way to estimate how much it will affect us as a city; we will have to adjust as we go.”
The bill will have different impacts on municipalities verses individuals, and many people are looking into the actual outcomes of these changes.
“Our wages are not going up but the cost of everything else is. That doesn’t seem right,” said Celeste Viehweg of Nibley after she signed her name to the petition. “Some of us are going to end up spending 200-300 dollars more a month, and I don’t personally know anybody that could spare that money.”
Other critics of the bill cite problems with reshuffling education funding or the increased food and gas tax that affect people’s daily needs.
“They talk about the tax credit that people will get, but when you look at it, it is not enough to offset our daily costs,” said NaLyn Nelson of Hyrum. “If they think this will help lower-income people, they are wrong. It will hit them right where they live. That is a problem. It is not enough that we get a little bit back at the end.”
Bowden is also concerned with the tax credit because as a disabled veteran, he does not qualify. Bowden said he knows he is not the only one who is going to be affected like this and he can’t imagine the hoops he and others will have to jump through.
“However, the overall argument is that the government did not do a very good job with this so we are going to stop this,” Bowden said. “I think Cache County is up to the task.”
While these non-partisan efforts are gaining traction throughout the county and the rest of the state, it looks like organization and money may be the deciding factors as to whether the tax referendum will make the ballot or not.
As of Monday, the nearly 80 volunteers in Cache County have gathered about 25% of the desired 4,560 signatures and have scraped together enough donations to cover the printing costs. According to Bowden, it is a similar story to counties around the state.
As of Monday, the tax referendum signing locations for this week in Cache County include:
Jan. 8, 10 a.m. to noon at the Logan Library located at 255 Main St., Logan.
Jan. 11, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Logan Library
Jan. 11, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hyrum Library located at 50 W Main St., Hyrum.
Apex Design Group will host signings during business hours on weekdays at their facility located at 55 E Main St., Wellsville.
Updates about locations locally and statewide can be found at fb.com/2019TaxReferendum.