Gov. Norm Bangerter's tax-limitation plan, unveiled Tuesday, is well received by Bangerter supporters but disliked by Democrats, tax protesters and even some who oppose the tax protesters' initiative petitions.
One casualty of Bangerter's surprise announcement may be Taxpayers For Utah. Leaders of the bipartisan group, which opposes the tax initiatives that will be on November's ballot, always worried that the Bangerter/-Ted Wilson gubernatorial race could slop over into their efforts.Now it has.
"It is outrageous that the person who is supposed to be the political leader in this fight concedes the field to the tax protesters," said Pat Shea. Shea is a former state Democratic chairman and now one of the leaders of Taxpayers For Utah. "That kind of political leadership spawned the tax-protest movement in the first place." Bangerter's actions, he said, are a cheap political ruse to woo voters away from independent candidate, Merrill Cook. Shea promised that Taxpayers For Utah will continue fighting the initiatives but said Bangerter's actions have harmed trust within the group.
House Assistant Majority Whip Jack DeMann, R-Salt Lake, said the governor's plan will not hurt efforts to defeat the tax initiatives, when asked about its effect at a Wednesday press conference to announce business opposition to the initiatives.
Calling his comments "partially partisan," DeMann said the proposal does exactly what he and many other critics of the 1987 tax increases want without going as far as the tax initiatives and threatening the state's economy.
In a Tuesday press conference, Bangerter said if he's re-elected he'll push the 1989 Legislature to freeze property taxes at current levels, require a vote of the people before property taxes could be increased, expand the current `circuit-breaker' program that gives property tax breaks to poor Utahns, keep bonding in line and restrain state government growth.
The governor said his plan is, "a realistic and reasonable alternative to tax limitation. My plan will protect Utah taxpayers while also ensuring that vital public services are maintained. It will put in place reasonsable limits _ limits that will not throw the baby out with the bath water."
Meanwhile, Cook called Bangerter's plan "political fluff" and said the governor was trying to apologize for past actions.
"What he (Bangerter) is saying is, `I'm sorry for what I've been doing and I promise I won't do it any more,' " Cook said. "But he (Bangerter) isn't willing to repair the damage he's done."
Cook, who has built his campaign around support for three tax-limitation initiatives, said Bangerter's plan contains only $1 million in tax relief (the promise to double the current `circuit breaker' property tax break for poor Utahns).
"That's one-third of 1 percent of the tax-cut program we say Utah needs to get moving again," Cook said.
"If he could sell this to the people, he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos," he added.
He said Bangerter, who raised taxes in 1986, can't be trusted not to raise taxes during a second term. The governor's plan is little more than a reaction to opinion polls that show me gaining support, Cook said. While Bangerter's tactic won't work, Cook said, "I'm at least glad the other candidates are focusing on my issues."
Wilson said the governor's plan is politically motivated. He also believes Bangerter is out after Cook's supporters. "Voters won't be persuaded by this," Wilson predicted. Voters weren't swayed by Bangerter's tax rebate this summer, by his reduction in the income tax rates this summer, he said.