Something you can count on for every state-level election is getting one or more ballot questions asking you to amend the Utah constitution. About 90% of the time, they’re very dry and somewhat boring technical changes. While the state has some good documents on the arguments for and against each, most voters are looking for a TL;DR summary of the positions. Keep reading to get a five-minute breakdown of what each constitutional amendment means.
Constitutional Amendment A
This amendment would change how the State Tax Commission is composed. The State Tax Commission is responsible for hearing most appeals on issues of taxation and appointing an executive director to handle day-to-day operations, among other duties. The change would allow the legislature to create its own requirements and adjust them each year without having to submit a constitutional amendment for voter approval. Right now, the commission is prevented from having more than two of the four members belong to a single political party.
Whether or not you consider the change a good thing depends on if you trust the state legislature to create new requirements you find palatable and if you think the Commission has attracted quality appointees with the current ones. Allowing the legislature to revise requirements annually could allow for flexibility in responding to changing conditions, but it could also result in endless tinkering to include or exclude specific individuals. Some may also consider it unfair to restrict the majority party from having the majority of seats on the Commission. The current requirements may also force some qualified applicants to change their political party or go unaffiliated in order to be considered.
Constitutional Amendment B
This amendment changes the terms of office for the governor and lieutenant governor when they’ve been appointed to fill a vacancy. Right now, the possibility exists that filling a mid-term vacancy could put both offices on differing election schedules even though they are supposed to be elected on the same ticket. The changes from this amendment seek to clarify that mid-term vacancies shouldn’t cause the election schedule for either office to change. It does so by specifying that the appointee will serve on the same term as the other party (eg. governor serves the remainder of the term of the LG, LG serves the remainder of the term of the governor).
It seems like a fairly straightforward technical change, but it isn’t without a rebuttal argument that this change would result in fewer elections. For example, it could have been possible for there to be a special election for governor this year since a new lieutenant governor was appointed. With the somewhat frequent shuffling of the executive branch over the last decade (and subsequent appointments), it’s possible we could have had another special election or two. It’s up to you to figure out if you think that’s a good thing or not.
Constitutional Amendment C
Currently, each elected member of the executive has to rely on the attorney general for legal counsel. This change would allow the lieutenant governor, state auditor, and treasurer to appoint their own attorney to advise their office. This is a direct response to the mess that John Swallow left in the attorney general’s office. The same “Chinese wall” argument has been playing out at the city level as Provo considers separate counsel for the mayor and council.
This comes with a cost of up to $360K per year. It can also potentially put executive offices in a more adversarial position. That may be a good thing when one office isn’t doing its job properly, but it may also create unnecessary friction between offices. It may also be a duplication of effort if the AG’s office can handle those functions.