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When is a fact not really a fact?

How about during a political campaign?In today's high-tech elections, with media consultants and issue coordinators, it's not unusual for two candidates to completely disagree on each other's political records - and support those disagreements with staff research.

That research, while technically correct, may be interpreted in ways that stretch the imagination.

Take, for example, Utah's governor's race.

Gov. Norm Bangerter has been in office 31/2 years. Before that, he was majority leader and then speaker of the Utah House for a number of years.

Challenging him is Democrat Ted Wilson, who was mayor of Salt Lake City from 1976 to 1985. From 1976 to 1980, Wilson was one of the five-member City Commission. From 1980 to 1985, after a change in government form, Wilson was the sole executive for the city.

Both men have extensive public records for voters to examine. But if you listen to their campaign talk, what should be simple history is certainly clouded.

Here's how it goes:

Wilson says he lowered city government spending by 10 percent while sole executive, 1980-85. Bangerter says during his governorship, he's cut state spending by 8 percent.

Both statements are technically correct. However, Bangerter points out that half of Wilson's 10 percent reduction in the city's general fund account comes about through a transfer of monies to another account - so the reduction is only 5 percent.

Wilson points out that state government spending, in actual dollars, has increased and that Bangerter takes into account inflation and population growth to come up with the 8 percent decrease. Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager, says that in coming up with his 8 percent figure, Bangerter used 1985 as his base year.

"That is totally unfair. In 1985 the state budget was bloated with a $100 million surplus left over from Gov. Scott Matheson's fine management of the state and had extra money in it for flooding. The base year should have been 1984. Take that year and compare Bangerter's budgets and he didn't cut spending at all."

Bangerter says in a press release that from 1980 to 1985 Wilson suggested tax increases every year to the City Council.

But Wilson tells a different story. First, there was no tax increase request in 1980. (Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler admits that's true. "We were counting 1981 on, really, not including 1980.")

In 1981 Wilson did suggest a property tax increase. "The economy was really down. He cut budgets drastically and then asked for a small increase, just as the governor did in 1987 - only his was a big tax increase," says Jolley.

In 1982 the Legislature mandated a lower utility franchise tax, so Wilson suggested an offsetting property tax increase so city revenues wouldn't decrease. "It was a shift in tax source," and so not really a tax increase, says Jolley.

In 1983, the city had to pay for severe flooding in downtown Salt Lake City, so Wilson did suggest "a modest" property tax increase, says Jolley. "He also cut programs and reduced the city's work force."

Jolley says there was no general fund tax increase in 1984 and 1985.

That's true, but Buhler points out that in 1984 a "temporary" property tax hike imposed during the floods was made permanent by the city. And Wilson suggested an increase in the capital facilities property tax - to pay for buildings, including remodeling City Hall. (Jolley points out that a "temporary" sales tax increase imposed while Bangerter was a House leader was later made permanent.)

Wilson again suggested a property tax increase in 1985 for capital facilities, Buhler says. "What does the public care if it is a tax increase to pay for buildings or a tax increase for the general fund, to pay for operations? A tax hike is a tax hike."

Jolley says that, ideally, an increase in the capital facilities property tax is eliminated when the buildings are built or repaired.

"Any way you look at it, Wilson suggested five tax increases in five years," says Buhler.

"And Norm Bangerter recommended the largest tax increase in the state's history in 1987," counters Jolley. "Take out inflation and population growth, and from the time Bangerter was a leader in the House - where he helped put together the state's budget - through his governorship - where he recommended budgets - the state's budget tripled. Take the same time that Wilson was mayor, and the city's budget doubled. Who is the big spender?"

Who indeed. It will be left up to the voters to sort out the conflicting "facts" for themselves.