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Vouchers: Let the people decide?

Note: The following is in response to voucher opponents who complain that voucher supporters do not intend to abide by the vote of the people if vouchers are rejected.

Voucher opponents, confident that they will prevail in a popular vote, are demanding "Let the people decide on vouchers".

What they really mean is "Let the people decide on vouchers, unless they vote in favor of vouchers. Then let the courts decide." Everyone knows that, if vouchers are approved by the voters, many of the same people and groups who are yelling "Let the people decide" will wait a full two nanoseconds before yelling "Let the courts decide."

Most voucher opponents will not abide by a decision of the people if the voters support vouchers. Here's how the 5-step process works.

1. Let the Legislature decide? Yes, unless they decide to support vouchers.
2. Let the people decide? Yes, unless they decide to support vouchers.
3. Let the state courts decide? Yes, unless they decide to support/uphold vouchers.
4. Let the federal courts decide? Yes, unless they decide to support/uphold vouchers.
5. Let voucher opponents decide? Yes, even though they are a minority, there are enough of them to justify stopping the program.

This is how our political process works (at least the first four steps), but let's make sure we understand what is meant by "letting the people decide."

A little too confident about victory in a popular election?
In 2004, supporters of a statewide sales tax increase to preserve open space and build convention centers were confident of victory. The polls showed overwhelming support, about 2 to 1 in the early and intermediate stages of the campaign. They had the money, organization, smart consultants, and overwhelming media support.

The mantra was "Let the people decide because we don't like the Legislature's decision not to impose this tax increase."

Right after the polls closed on election night, Dan Jones confidently and cheerfully predicted that Initiative 1 would pass. Supporters partied on TV in a swanky downtown hotel, and opponents sat at home watching the results come in on their lap tops. When the dust settled, support for the tax increase came in at 45.1%. Even opponents were surprised.

Since steps three and four were not available, supporters of the tax increase went straight to step five and argued that even though they didn't get 50%, they got 45% and that was enough support to convince the Legislature that "something" had to be done about open space.

We are a republic instead of a pure democracy because we try to balance the wishes of the majority and the minority. Sometimes the wishes of the minority are significant enough to outweigh the wishes of the majority.

We have a system in place for giving the public a chance to uphold or strike down a law seen by some as bad policy. That process is being followed.

I think it is important for voters to understand the matter thoroughly before going into the voting booth. Not only do they need to understand the particular policy at stake, but they need to understand how much of their tax Dollars are being used for the referrendum to occur at all.

If voucher opponents lose this one, they will gain no friends by appealing to the courts, although, it is their right to do so.

There has been neither yelling nor demanding from our side. We're confident that when voters see the complete picture of vouchers that they will vote it down the same way that all such schemes have been rejected in every popular vote throughout the country.

Utahns for Public Schools has operated a professional and respectful campaign. Your blog post has a slightly different flavor from your usual data-driven, policy-oriented discussions. It seems to have a hint of anger. There is no need to accuse the other side of yelling and demanding, especially when the evidence points to a campaign of respect and openness.


You've got it exactly backwards. Utah's voters have been opposed to subsidies for private school attendees since their first taste of "school choice" in the 1988 ballot initiative pushed by Merrill Cook. Since then legislation to create subsidies for private school students has been proposed at least 9 times in the Utah Legislature, always failing until this year. Voucher crusaders, not skeptics, have been unwilling to accept rejection at every turn.

Your criticism of voucher opponents is especially ironic considering Greg Curtis is planning on ignoring the results of the referendum and pushing vouchers on an unwilling populace if the voucher plan fails at the ballot box.

Sorry UTA...you guys have been great at providing fiscal analysis of the voucher plan but this post is just silly.

I think you have referenced the wrong group. Apparently, it is Parents for Choice that is using your five step plan--hence today's lawsuit on the ballot title.


First, to address the "subsidy" issue, let's make one thing perfectly clear. The current public education system is a subsidy for most parents and children.

In 2004, the top 1% of all taxpayers paid about 21% of all Utah individual income taxes (they earned about 17% of the state's AGI). In 2004, the top 10% paid about 51% of all Utah individual income taxes. (Source: GOPB based on Tax Commission data)

The fundamental premise of public education is to subsidize the education of the majority with a large share of the taxes coming from upper income.

However, a $3,000 voucher for low income households is a smaller subsidy than the $7,500 that taxpayers will be paying in 2008 to educate students in public schools.

Yes, there have been numerous attempts to get vouchers passed, but significant proposals don't usually pass on the first, second, or third try. Hate crimes legislation is a good example.


We've read your comments as well as comments from other voucher opponents on other blogs so you really don't have much room to talk about the tone of this post.

Regarding data-driven and policy-oriented discussion, our next post will discuss the good news about the rainy day fund and the "working" rainy day fund.


If voucher opponents are going to complain about voucher supporters not abiding by the vote of the people, let's hear opponents commit to forgoing any legal challenges if voters approve vouchers.

Any takers?


The PCE lawsuit is intended to clarify the ballot language. If vouchers are approved by voters, the opponents' lawsuit will be to stop vouchers.

Dear new blog poster,

We miss Mike. Bring back Mike!

Don't be so uptight :-)

"If voucher opponents are going to complain about voucher supporters not abiding by the vote of the people, let's hear opponents commit to forgoing any legal challenges if voters approve vouchers."

You're confusing two completely separate situations. If voucher supporters implement vouchers even in the face of an election that shows Utahns opposed to the very clear description of the plan as worded in the plain and clear ballot language we will have an example of a government that has openly and clearly defied its citizens and exceeded its bounds.

If voucher opponents sue after the referendum passes we will have an example of a minority attempting to protect its civil rights the only way possible in the face of an overly burdensome law. The courts were created for that purpose.

The first possible outcome is significantly more devious than the second and for you to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between the two is laughable.


Opponents have been taunting supporters with "why don't you want to let the people decide" or "why won't you abide by the people's decision if they vote vouchers down?"

This is great rhetoric, but we are pointing out that opponents view the vote as a one way street. Why would supporters welcome a vote if the only outcome is either defeat or do-over?

In reality, it's "heads we win, tails we flip again."

How about a compromise on this issue? Why don't opponents be upfront and with voters and publicly state "We want to let the people decide, but if the people vote to support vouchers, we will challenge this in court"? Would you agree to this?


Mike is still with us part-time and continues to post on this blog so nothing has changed in that regard.

If he's "uptight", maybe it's because his Rockets lost in the first round (Yao shot 44% and T-Mac shot 39.4% from the floor) and his Astros have now lost five in a row.

He's been watching Hakeem Olajuwon highlights on youtube so maybe he'll start feeling better.

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