Last week, Republican delegates battled in their state convention over taking the sales tax off food. This Saturday, Democrats will argue the same issue but hope to have different results.
Democratic Party Chairman Peter Billings Jr. and other party leaders want delegates to endorse the sales-tax-off-food initiative. Republican leaders wanted - and got - their delegates last Saturday to stay neutral on the initiative question on this November's ballot, even though many GOP delegates wanted their party to endorse the measure."I think we'll win it," said Billings, who will conduct the convention in Cottonwood High School. "But there are those opposed and we understand their concerns."
Specifically, Democratic delegates who belong to the Utah Public Employees Association, the largest government union in the state, and the Utah Education Association will probably oppose inclusion of the initiative endorsement in the party's platform because their unions oppose it.
"There's no compromise on this for us. We just can't trust anyone who says we won't be hurt by this. We have no fall-back position. UPEA will be against this tax cut until the day after the election," said Nancy Sechrest, UPEA acting executive director.
State officials estimate removing the food tax will reduce state revenues by $90 million and local government revenues by $15 million to $20 million. Billings and other Democratic leaders want to endorse the tax removal with the understanding that local governments not lose their $20 million and the Legislature restructure the state's whole tax system - with an eye on rebracketing the income tax. The result of that restructuring would result in enough new revenue to offset food-tax loses. Restructuring would also make the system more progressive - more fair, Billings said.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, Republicans hold large majorities in both the state House and Senate.
Both the UPEA and UEA boards of directors have formally opposed the food-tax initiative. UEA and UPEA Democratic caucuses are scheduled to meet before the 10 a.m. Democratic convention to discuss the issue and vote on how the caucus officially stands, Billings said.
UEA government affairs director Dee Burningham guesses there are between 100-150 Democratic delegates who are UEA members. Sechrest guesses there are more than 200 UPEA delegates.
"Together, they make up a considerable delegate bloc that must be considered," Billings said.
About 2,100 people have been certified as Democratic state delegates. Considering that platform debate traditionally is attended by a minority of convention delegates, a bloc of 300-400 votes could swing a platform issue.
Recognizing that possibility, Democratic leaders have structured the convention to give them the best chance of success.
First, former Gov. Scott M. Matheson, co-chairman of the Democratic Policy Commission that wrote the platform and strong supporter of endorsing the food-tax removal, and policy commission co-chairman Karen Shepherd will address Saturday's convention before the platform voting - urging and explaining the Democratic leadership's position of initiative support.
Second, Billings will suggest to the convention that voting rules be changed this year. In the past, a majority of