Taxation petitioners claim ‘victory within reach’

112K signatures gathered out of 116K needed; county-specific requirements met

Kiley Miller works with petition organizer Christie Williams-Dunton as fellow organizer Ryan Anderson looks on. The petition Miller signed at the event in the Grand County Library seeks to repeal the Utah Legislature’s recently passed tax reform package. Photo by Carter Pape

Organizers behind a statewide effort to put tax reform passed by Utah lawmakers in December to a voter referendum claim “victory” to be “within reach” as the 5 p.m. deadline on Jan. 21 approached.

Paul Murphy, a spokesperson for the petition effort, said an “estimated 112,000 people” had signed the petition as of Monday morning, 4,000 signatures short of what state law requires. Internal data also indicated that, in 17 counties, the petitioners had collected signatures from at least 8% of the county’s registered voters, surpassing the 15-county requirement.

A margin for error would also be required for the petition to succeed, as county clerks who check petition signatures may not be able to verify every signature provided by petition organizers.

“The petition is on the verge of beating what many thought were insurmountable odds,” Murphy said in a press release Monday morning.

Petition organizers cite multiple measures in the tax reform package as the rationale behind their opposition. Among the changes approved by lawmakers are an increase on the food tax from 1.75% to 4.85%, an increase on fuel taxes and a lack of assurances with respect to increasing or maintaining spending on public education.

Harmons Grocery, a statewide supermarket chain with 19 stores, mainly in the Wasatch Front, threw its weight behind the petition two weeks ago and began collecting signatures at all its store locations Jan. 11, citing the food tax as a primary pain point.

“Food is essential and should be affordable,” said Bob Harmon, chairman for Harmons. “Increasing the tax on food hurts everyone, but especially those in our community who are already struggling. As a company, we do not believe groceries should be taxed. We feel strongly that Utahns should have an opportunity to vote on the issue before the tax goes into effect.”

The grocer will collect signatures through 3 p.m. on Tuesday, two hours before signatures are due to county clerks in each of the state’s 29 counties.