Election results will be formally canvassed Nov. 20.
While it is unknown what percentage of Grand County voters will participate in the 2018 midterms, early voter turnout has been high elsewhere in the U.S. as the nation continues to spar over a number of issues.
According to a National Public Radio report, voter turnout this year could reach a near record high for a nonpresidential election year – with some experts predicting 50 percent of eligible voters will cast a vote, a figure not seen since 1970 and 1966 – during two other times when the nation was sharply divided over social and cultural issues.
Grand County voters have a lot to consider when they fill out their ballots. Not only must they decide local issue Proposition 9 – which if approved would lead to the creation of a group to study the best alternative to the county’s form of government – voters will also have to determine what course to take on three proposed amendments to the Utah Constitution, two regarding property tax exemptions and a third that could give lawmakers more authority over calling special sessions.
Other ballot questions ask voters to decide whether to approve a 10-cent increase in the state fuel tax to help fund education, approve medical marijuana, expand Medicaid, and change the way electoral districts are drawn in the state.
There are three local contested elections in Grand County. They include the race for Grand County Attorney, which has Christina Sloan facing Stephen Stocks; the Grand County School Board District Four election involving Ryan Anderson and Kathy Williams; and the Grand County Council election wherein incumbent Mary McGann is opposed by Norm Knapp.
See the sample ballot on page A4.
The Grand County Council on Sept. 4 officially endorsed a “yes” vote on Proposition 9. If it fails, voters will lose the opportunity to have any say in the matter and the change of government will automatically create a three-person partisan council. A yes vote will lead to the study committee, which will have roughly a year to hash out a new change, with public participation. The change in government would go into effect in 2020.
With fuel costs already higher than the national average, this is a nonbinding opinion asking voters to either support or oppose a 10-cent increase in the state fuel tax that would help fund public education. Lawmakers would weigh the outcome of the vote when they deliberate the issue next year. As previously reported, the legislature approved Question 1 as a compromise with the group Our Schools Now, which originally sought to raise $700 million from income and sales tax revenue for education through a ballot initiative. The group agreed to drop the push in exchange for a $350 million deal using a combination of property, income and gas tax adjustments. The only unresolved issue was gas tax, which is what lawmakers will deliberate in 2019.
With recreational marijuana legal in states to the immediate east and west of Utah, a poll released in June indicated 66 percent of residents support the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. If approved, patients with a doctor’s recommendation could obtain a medical marijuana card and purchase cannabis in its various forms at licensed private dispensaries.
The June poll revealed 54 percent of Utahns support the full expansion of Medicaid under terms of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – with 35 percent opposed and 11 percent undecided.
The state is waiting for approval or denial of a Medicaid waiver request it sent to the federal government. If granted, the waiver would allow Utah to move forward on a partial expansion of Medicaid coverage for low-income residents, and would impose work requirements and rely on an increase in federal funding.
Proposition 3 would eliminate the waiver process, as previously reported, and fully expand Medicaid through combining $90 million in state funding through a 0.15 percent bump to the state sales tax, and $800 million in federal funding in order to provide health care coverage to roughly 150,000 low-income residents.
Electoral districts are typically redrawn following the decennial census and that will occur in Utah in a couple of years, but voters this year have a say in just how that process plays out. Typically, legislators were allowed to draw their own boundaries – meaning they get to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives, according to supporters – but Prop. 4 if approved would create an independent and unelected redistricting commission. The commission would help lawmakers create electoral maps that would pay deference to municipal and county boundaries, neighborhoods and geographic features. The legislature would then have the authority to either accept or toss out the new maps.
Amendments A & B
The state Constitution would be amended if voters approve any of three of them on the 2018 ballot. Two of them regard property tax exemptions. The first would clarify an existing exemption for active duty military. Supporters of Amendment B, which would exempt property taxes for people who rent property to the government, argue the government would pay itself through property taxes on private property it rented. Critics argue those renters already enjoy a steady and reliable tenant and they don’t require an additional tax exemption.
If approved, the legislature would have the right to call a special session outside of the normal 45 working days session that takes place each year January through March. Currently, only the governor has that right – and only the governor has authority over what topics are deliberated. A two-thirds majority would have to approve the special session. The 45-day limit requires lawmakers to maintain discipline during the session, said a spokesman from Gov. Gary Herbert’s office. Herbert opposes the proposed amendment. There are times, however, when 45 days isn’t enough time to address issues that require immediate attention, some lawmakers feel. Under the proposal, the governor would retain the power to veto any legislation that arises during the special session, but would no longer have domain over the topics discussed.
Choosing a study commitee if Prop. 9 passes
Wanted: Registered voters to serve on a five-member appointment council that would select seven members to sit on a study committee tasked with creating a new form of government in Grand County.
The committee will spend roughly a year mulling over the subject and members must meet within 10 days of the appointments being made.
But first, voters need to decide the fate of Proposition 9 this election. Prop. 9, if approved, calls for the study committee to be established. If voters shoot it down, Grand County by default will be governed by a three-person partisan commission, and no study committee will be needed. The Utah Legislature mandated the change of government earlier this year.
The Grand County Council at a special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 30 voted 7-0 to request letters of interest from those who want to serve on the appointment council. Grand County’s state senator and two state representatives joined the county council in extending the invitation, according to Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann.
Why is the council discussing a study committee prior to the election? McGann said the tight deadline to make appointments and begin meeting (only 10 days after the Nov. 20 election canvass) doesn’t give the county a lot of time to prepare.
Letters can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by regular mail addressed to Grand County Courthouse, Council’s Office, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT, 84532. The letters must be received by 5 p.m. Nov. 14.
Grand County will discuss the issue Nov. 20 in an open meeting. Applicants can address the council at that meeting, but they are not required to do so.
Letters of interest will be shared with state representatives. The appointment council will have 30 days from its first meeting to make its study committee appointments.
Contact the council’s office at 435-259-1346 for more information.
Legislative priorities are TRT, booze
Transient Room Tax reform, Medicaid expansion, USU expansion – and the availability of stronger alcohol in local markets were among the legislative priorities listed by members of the Grand County and City of Moab councils during a joint meeting Tuesday.
Changing how TRT is distributed and what it could be spent on has been a sore point for elected officials and residents alike, and the subject was certainly the one most often cited at the meeting. But City Council member Karen Guzman-Newton’s suggestion to allow stronger alcohol to be sold outside of a state liquor store drew the biggest laugh of the night.
Mayor Emily Niehaus did not have time to take an informal straw poll to narrow down the issues the city and county will focus on when the Utah Legislature meets in 2019.