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ST. GEORGE - The warm September weather here was no match for the heat generated in the Dixie Center's Auditorium Theater on Thursday, when Utah's three gubernatorial candidates debated during the Utah Association of Realtors' 1988 convention.

The debate focused on economic development, housing and the tax rollback initiatives that will appear on the November ballot.Democratic candidate Ted Wilson said while the tax cuts would not destroy Utah, they would badly hurt the state's children.

"The little people are the ones who will be hurt by this," Wilson said. "Some people think they won't be. This is a matter of schools; this is a matter of children; it's a matter of basic services we all have to have and need."

Wilson blamed Gov. Norm Bangerter for spawning the tax protests with "yo-yo economic policies."

An emotional Bangerter lashed out against tax initiatives, saying good education for the state's children and tax cuts don't mix.

"We can dream all we want," he said, "but you cannot spend the lowest amount for public education and say that your taxes are too high. You can't have less public employees than anyone else in the country and say that your taxes are too high."

Bangerter said a yes vote for the tax initiatives would mean Utah's schoolchildren would get half of what the average American child receives in education dollars.

"There isn't a state in this nation that educates our children more economically with a better result than we do," Bangerter said. "But if you don't want us to do it at that level, then you in good conscience should vote yes for those initiatives because that's your right. But don't try and jimmy the figures, because they won't jimmy."

Independent candidate Merrill Cook said Utah ranks sixth in the nation in the number of public employees per household. He denied claims that the state's educational system would be improperly funded, and said Utahns are being "shamefully misled" by an expensive ad campaign sponsored by the Taxpayers for Utah, a group that opposes the rollback initiatives.

"Nobody's talking about not funding those classroom-related expenses properly," he said. "But come on! The fact is the tax rebate proves we didn't need that tax hike. It proves it went too far."

Cook compared Bangerter and Wilson to Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Rep. Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, both D-Mass., who opposed tax cuts in that state.

"They all said it would be a disaster," he said. "Massachusetts had prosperity as a result of that."

The three candidates were asked once again where they stood on a right-to-work law in Utah.

"I'm going to be a lot firmer tonight on that issue than I was with the AFL-CIO," Wilson said. "I support the right-to-work law, but there are a few problems with it."

He said that because union negotiators must extend their representation to everyone in the workplace, there should be some form of compensation for those services.

"Ted is saying you don't have to join the union, but since the union would represent the workers in the plant, they'll have to pay dues," Bangerter said. "Now that is not right-to-work."

Cook agreed with Bangerter, saying it would be the only time the two would agree during the debate.

In fact, all three candidates agreed the state's tax codes should contain provisions for a mortgage interest rate deduction.

Wilson and Bangerter disagreed over the status of Utah's economy. Bangerter said the economy is "coming back." Wilson said Utah realtors have suffered during Bangerter's administration.

Bangerter called his economic development plan "comprehensive." But Cook said tax cuts would be more effective in economic development.

"My opponents haven't learned the lessons of the Reagan revolution," Cook said. "It was the tax cuts of the Reagan administration that have aided in this recovery."