A common complaint among candidates, when local elections roll around, is that the city council should send — or should have sent — the big questions to the voters, especially the big expenditures. We’ve adopted a Latin word for that vote: referendum.
The referendum process can be an important check by the people on misguided or dilatory local and state legislative bodies. There is no equivalent at the national level; some have advocated such a thing, but I never have. As firmly as I declare the people’s sovereignty in our governments, we’ve seen enough mischief achieved by referendum in states and municipalities that I have never warmed to the idea of a national referendum.
But back to earth. American Fork, to be precise. (Meanwhile, in Pleasant Grove, they’re collecting signatures through today to put a recent tax increase to a public vote.)
Cities are required by law to put certain bond issues to the voters. This happens when the bonds will have to be repaid from general funds, meaning tax revenues, which could mean a tax increase.
Most other actions, including bond issues to be repaid with other revenues, do not require the voters’ direct approval — but opponents can force a referendum by gathering enough signatures on a petition.
There’s a bit of a contradiction evident when someone running to be our elected representative wants to pull decisions away from our elected representatives and subject them to a popular vote. But I have a larger concern.
I’m sorry if this sounds cynical. If you’re tempted to believe that these referendum-touting candidates are animated by an abundance of democratic spirit and an overarching respect for the people’s collective wisdom, resist that. The motive is nearly always more political.
Here’s the short explanation. Well, short-ish.Continue reading