2018 Utah Constitutional Amendments Guide

By Jesse Harris

With almost every election comes a series of new amendments to the Utah Constitution on your ballot. This year is no different with three proposed changes that require voter approval. They vary from highly technical changes with little bearing on government operations to sweeping changes with huge implications on governance in our state. So without further delay, here’s a breakdown of the questions and what they do.

Constitutional Amendment A

Way back in 2012, voters approved a property tax exemption for active duty military. It required that they be deployed at least 200 days in a calendar year to qualify. The way the constitution is currently worded could cause a hole where you can’t qualify for the exemption if you, say, served 199 days in 2017 and 1 day in 2018. The amendment makes a small change from 200 days in a calendar year to 200 days in a rolling 365-day period. This is one of those technical changes meant to correct an oversight in who was initially intended to be covered by the original 2012 proposal. There are not currently any arguments against passage.

Constitutional Amendment B

When government owns property, it’s exempt from being taxed. Kind of a no-brainer, right? It would be silly for government to pay itself (or another government entity) for owning something. This constitutional amendment would seek to extend that exemption to land or buildings that a government entity is leasing from a private party. On the one hand, it’s government property in all senses except ownership. But then again, there’s the problem that it might create property tax base problems in cities with a large number of government offices. There’s also the question as to if providing a property tax exemption to a property owner based on their tenants is fair or not.

Constitutional Amendment C

When US Representative Jason Chaffetz left office, the legislature wanted to be able to set the rules of the special election to replace him. Governor Gary Herbert declined to do so and deferred to Lt. Governor Spencer Cox to follow existing election law. There was some tension as the legislature wanted to exclude signature candidates from the ballot (which would have likely shut out now-Representative John Curtis from the process) and Lt. Governor Cox would not do so.

This proposal (which is obviously the most heated of the three) would, if passed, allow the legislature to call itself into session with a 2/3 majority vote. While there are a few specific circumstances listed in which they could do so, the “emergency” provision is open-ended enough to allow it to happen for basically any reason whatsoever. This brings up potential issues with balance of power between the branches, especially since a legislatively-called sessions would likely end up with a veto-proof majority for any bills passed. Given the specific circumstances under which the legislature wanted a special session and one was not called, it’s hard to see how this change is broadly applicable.

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