Utah House Speaker Makes Dig At Tax Reform Referendum

Jan 27, 2020

House Speaker Brad Wilson presides over the Utah House of Representatives on the opening day of the 2020 legislative session
Credit KPCW Radio

The 2020 general session of the Utah Legislature began Monday, with the repeal of the recently approved tax law hanging over legislators’ heads. 

After the Farmington High School drumline played the Utah House of Representatives into session, House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican from Kaysville, began his opening remarks with some critical words for supporters of the Utah tax reform referendum.

“Legislation by referendum, while part of the political process, can be divisive," Wilson said. "And at many times, be short of facts.”

Fred Cox, a referendum organizer and former Republican lawmaker, says Wilson misunderstands the group’s efforts.

"I think he needs to read our state constitution again, because a referendum doesn’t create any new laws—a referendum puts on hold something they have done," Cox said. "It doesn’t create a new law. That’s an initiative."

Wilson doubled down on his sentiments about citizen-led actions, saying “it has proven ruinous” for states that pursue initiatives and referenda and bypass representative government processes. Wilson says constituents elect legislators to parse through the details of difficult issues, weighing the pros and cons of particular policies. Going forward, Wilson says lawmakers need to find new ways of listening to constituents and conveying their decision-making process to them.

"We are not foes on a political battlefield," Wilson said. "We are all Utahns, committed to getting public policy right."

Senate President Stuart Adams says the repeal legislation, House Bill 185, will go straight through the House and Senate Tuesday and be ready for the governor’s signature. Cox says the repeal shows the legislature is listening to the public, but he’s still exercising caution in trusting lawmakers.

"They’ve promised that they’re not going to redo this during the session—we are going to make sure that they keep that promise," Cox said. "We do not want to see this bill come back in pieces, this year or any time."

As of 2 p.m. Monday, the state elections office verified more than 111,000 referendum signatures. Summit and Wasatch Counties are still short a hundred or so signatures, but county clerks have until Feb. 4 to finish verifying them.