SALT LAKE CITY — A citizen referendum was filed Monday challenging a tax reform bill that was passed during a special legislative session last week, state elections officials say.
The referendum papers were signed by five people, including former state representative Fred Cox, of West Valley City, Utahns Against Hunger executive director Gina Cornia, and Utah Justice Coalition executive director Darcy Van Orden. They’re seeking to pause SB 2001, which passed Thursday, and have Utahns vote on it during the November 2020 election.
The group will have until Jan. 21 — 40 days after the special session ended — to collect at least 115,869 verified signatures for it to be placed on the November 2020 ballot. That includes a threshold that must be met in at least 15 of Utah’s 29 counties, Utah elections director Justin Lee explained.
Should they receive enough signatures by the deadline, the bill will then be put on hold and placed on the ballot before it can go into law, Jones added. Otherwise, it will go into law as scheduled.
In an appearance on KSL NewsRadio’s “Dave & Dujanovic” Monday morning, Cox said the group “2019 Tax Referendum” created a Facebook page Saturday. The group includes people who typically don’t see eye-to-eye politically and spread quickly over the weekend, he said. It had 2,500 members by noon Monday.
“If every one of those only gathers 50 (signatures), we would have your 116,000,” Cox said, during his appearance on the show. “We are inviting the very liberal and the very conservative, and we are getting them from all aspects. This is not just one group or another, these are people. And I believe, after talking to a number of people, that there’s literally 2 million in the state that wants to sign to get rid of this bill.”
The push for the initiative is 100% grassroots, Cox said. The proposal, which was posted online by elections officials Monday, notes that all signature gatherers “will NOT be paid for their services.” He added the group hadn’t secured much money for their push against the tax reform bill, but some people have already volunteered with printing costs.
The tax reform bill that passed includes an income tax cut, but more sales tax on items like food, gas and other services. Utahns with dependents will also receive a one-time check for as much as $200, and the state will also send out a prebate check related to the food sales tax increase in mid-2020 as a part of the changes passed.
While the bill passed, it didn't pass with at least a two-thirds vote, which made it possible for a referendum to be filed. It also passed under scrutiny, especially for the food sales tax. Cornia was among those who denounced the bill prior to Thursday’s special session.
“It’s a very regressive tax and it’s going to have a disproportionate impact on low-income families and households that have fixed incomes,” she said. “It’s morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to sign the bill, and he supported the vote in an op-ed published in the Deseret News Sunday.
“Adapting our tax policies to reflect our modern and ever-changing economy is important. These changes are the culmination of 15 years of discussion and work,” Herbert wrote. “Together, we can and are taking the first steps toward more stability and a more equitable tax system that will ensure our continued economic success in the future. This benefits individuals and families, businesses, the rising generation and the future of Utah.”
Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega, KSL NewsRadio