SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah voters rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that would have boosted education funding through a gas tax in a state that has the lowest per pupil spending in the nation.
Three other ballot initiatives were leading, but too close to be declared victorious at the end of election night: Medical marijuana legalization, Medicaid expansion and the creation of a new redistricting commission.
The education funding ballot question that failed was crafted as part of a compromise between lawmakers and an education group that initially wanted to take a different plan to voters.
Under the plan, a 10-cent gas tax increase would have given public schools about $100 million more annually, or about $150 per student.
The Utah chapter of Americans for Prosperity, founded billionaire conservative David Koch, opposed the plan. The group argued that lawmakers should me more efficient with existing funds rather than raising taxes for residents.
As part of the compromise, lawmakers have already taken different steps including a property tax increase to increase education funding.
Nolan Karras of the Our Schools Now organization that pushed the ballot question said in a statement that the group regrets not winning but note that a new political coalition has now been created to promote public education funding. Karras said the group will continue to work with state leaders to find alternatives to a gas tax to get more education funds and investments in teachers.
A closer look at the three other ballot issues that were too close to call by late Tuesday:
A ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana was leading as of Tuesday night.
Win or lose, state leaders have vowed to join 30 other states in legalizing pot for people with certain conditions.
After months of fierce debate and campaigning, Mormon church leaders, state lawmakers and the governor — all opponents of the initiative — reached a compromise before the election with medical marijuana advocates in which they agreed on parameters for a law that suited all sides.
If the ballot initiative passes, it will be revised to fit the compromise. If it fails, a new law will be drafted. Gov. Gary Herbert has promised to call a special session after the election to make that happen.
Mormon leaders had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but agreed to the compromise to allow access for people with serious medical needs. The faith had long frowned upon medical marijuana use because of a key church health code called the "Word of Wisdom," which prohibits coffee as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterated in a statement Tuesday that the legislation crafted in the compromise is the best option. Marty Stephens, the faith's director of community and government relations, said that "relieving human pain and suffering, while protecting children truly is at the heart of our interest in this matter."
Medical marijuana advocates are backing the deal to avoid wrangling and uncertainty that could continue if the ballot initiative passes.
The ballot initiative would create a state-regulated growing and dispensing operation and allow people with certain medical conditions to use the drug in edible forms. It does not allow pot smoking.
Unlike the ballot initiative, the compromise won't allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. It also bars certain types of edible marijuana that could appeal to children, like cookies and brownies.
A ballot measure to expand Medicaid was also leading on Tuesday night. The initiative comes after the state's Republican lawmakers repeatedly rejected the idea over concerns that it would force the state to cut other services to cover the cost.
The initiative would provide health care coverage to an estimated 150,000 low-income Utah residents. The measure includes a sales tax increase that is expected to generate $90 million that will combine with $800 million in federal money to fund the expansion.
Utah lawmakers did expand coverage to about 6,000 of the state's neediest residents last year and approved another expansion measure with work requirements, but the federal government hasn't yet accepted that plan.
The proposal to creating an independent redistricting commission that will recommend new congressional and state legislative district maps after the 2020 census was narrowly leading.
Under the initiative, a seven-person commission would draw up district maps that the state Legislature must approve.
In the current system, the state's Republican-dominated Legislature passes redistricting plans by a majority vote, subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Opponents argued the measure is unconstitutional and an attempt by liberals to gain more power.
The results from the 2020 census are to be delivered to states in spring 2021, triggering a mandatory once-a-decade redistricting for U.S. House and state legislative seats to account for population changes.