Gov. Norm Bangerter has decided against adding an additional question to this November's ballot concerning the removal of the sales tax on food.
"As of right now, he feels that (additional question) is inappropriate. It would just muddle the issue, and the food tax people should have their day before the public," said Francine Giani, Bangerter's press secretary.The additional question would have asked voters how to compensate for money lost by removing sales tax from food.
If he sticks to that decision, Bangerter won't place such a consideration on a summer special legislative session, which will probably be called in August.
Several weeks ago, Speaker of the House Nolan Karras, Majority Leader Craig Moody and other GOP legislative leaders met with Bangerter to discuss the food-tax removal. Bangerter opposes removing the food tax, saying state government can't afford the estimated $90-million loss in revenue.
At that meeting, Karras and Moody suggested that a second question could be added to the ballot, asking voters how the $90-million loss in state revenues should be handled. Karras and Moody suggested two alternatives - increases in other taxes or reduction in programs.
Bangerter never really liked the idea of adding questions to the ballot. "We never checked off on that," said Giani. Bangerter meets again with Republican leaders Thursday.
"We haven't been informed that he's against it," said Moody on Wednesday. "We think more discussion on the idea is needed. We haven't taken a poll of our (House Republican) caucus, but the feedback I'm getting is that such an additional question would be good."
If Bangerter doesn't place the question on the special session agenda, legislators can't consider it. That means additional questions can't be ordered by law onto the ballot - regardless of how many legislators desire it - before the November election.
Bangerter isn't up for election this year, but all 75 seats in the House and 15 of the 29-seats in the Senate are up. Karras, R-Roy, and Moody, R-Sandy, say they want some guidance from voters in how the lost revenue should be made up.
Placing additional questions on the ballot would take political heat off the majority Republicans in the House and Senate. If citizens said other taxes should be raised, they could do that. If citizens said cut programs, the Republicans could do that - and when some Utahns and Democrats screamed over reduced programs, the Republicans would just point to the directive at the ballot box and say they fulfilled voters' wishes.
Merrill Cook, chairman of the Independent Party of Utah, the group that gathered the 65,000 voter signatures needed to place the sales-tax-off-food measure on the ballot, said Karras and Moody were "playing politics in the ballot booth."
Cook said the additional question could be worded so as to lead voters to cast a "no" vote on the food tax. "It would be manipulation of the ballot, very unfair," Cook said. He encouraged Bangerter not to place the matter on the special session agenda, releasing an open letter to the media "because the governor never seems to answer my letters."