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Tax Reform Referendum Will Likely Go To Voters In November

A citizen-led referendum to overturn Utah’s new tax law may have met the requirements to be on the November ballot.

After a 40-day sprint to the finish line, opponents to the state’s recently passed tax law seem to have collected enough signatures to put a referendum to Utah voters in November. The law cuts the income tax rate and increases sales tax on food, gas and places taxes on some services.

As of Wednesday afternoon, internal data from the referendum group shows volunteers gathered more than 170,000 signatures—well above the nearly 116,000 that’s required. Referendum organizer Gina Cornia with Utahns Against Hunger says that surge in support from Utah voters is due to a recent show of solidarity by grocery chains Harmons and Associated Food Stores.

"Their presence—volunteers’ presence—in Harmons stores and in other grocery stores, where the number of volunteers who staffed Harmons locations and Associated Food Stores locations, they were just there and talking to people as they came in," Cornia said. "That just really changed everything."

Cornia, former Republican state legislator Fred Cox and others launched the referendum shortly after the Utah Legislature passed a new tax law during a December special session. Referendum supporters particularly oppose the increased sales tax on groceries and gas and say, though the legislature held numerous public meetings, the final bill doesn’t reflect what the public wants. Cornia says the amount of support for the referendum sends a loud-and-clear message from Utahns to the legislature.

“Whether or not this is good policy, people did not feel heard," Cornia said. "I think, more than anything, they don't want their groceries taxed. They think that it is unfair, and they think that it will hurt the most vulnerable people in their community.”

In Wasatch County, the clerk’s office has received 26 packets of signatures to verify. Summit County Deputy Clerk Kellie Robinson says her office has 57 packets. Each packet has 49 lines for signatures, but Robinson says not all the packets are full.

As of noon Wednesday, the state elections office reported the tax reform referendum has 66,717 verified signatures. County clerks have until Feb. 4 to count and verify the signatures. If the referendum meets the requirements, implementation of the tax law will be halted, until voters either approve or overturn the bill in November.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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