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FOOD-TAX POLITICS BLIND UTAH LEADERS

Politics can sometimes be a rough business. Occasionally, citizens are more harmed than helped by it.

But when the underadvantaged in society are hurt by politics - the poor, hungry, sick and disabled - it's time to point out in clear terms who is responsible.Here are the names of the men responsible for denying an extra $8 million to state Human Services programs this year: Senate President Arnold Christensen, Senate Majority Leader Dix McMullin, House Speaker Nolan Karras and House Majority Leader Craig Moody.

They, with the reluctant concurrence of GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter, are denying the money because they don't want the sales tax removed from food. They admit there's more than $8 million in surplus funds - more like $50 million in surplus this year. They admit the need is there, that there are legitimate poor Utahns who need the services.

But politics has blinded them.

The GOP legislative leaders worry that their Republican colleagues who are up for election this year may be harmed by the food-tax issue. Bangerter promised the $8 million earlier this year, even said he'd call a special session. But the legislative leaders talked him out of it Thursday.

Bangerter said he won't even spend the extra $8 million administratively now and ask legislators in January to approve that "supplemental" spending, because the GOP leaders won't agree to it. But that's a lame excuse. Bangerter almost always gets what he really wants from the Republican Legislature. He just doesn't want the $8 million enough to fight for it.

The governor, who prides himself on making decisions based on what's best for Utahns, not what is politically expedient, went against his own teachings this time.

I know the Republican leaders' argument: It would be unwise to add $8 million to the Human Services budget, to add $8 million to any budget, if it is only to be taken away in 1991 when $90 million - the amount the food-tax brings in to state coffers - must be cut from all state programs if voters so decree in November's election.

Two responses. First, even if the $8 million would be removed next year, at least you could feed some hungry, poor people and get medical attention to some elderly in the meantime. More than $1 million alone is needed in the WIC program - Women, Infants and Children - that provides, among other things, formula to infants of poor mothers.

Second, there are numerous options that Republican legislators will have open to them between November's election and the end of February when they have to adopt a new budget that may be lacking the food-tax revenue.

But Bangerter, Christensen, Karras, et al., aren't interested in options. They're interested in winning. And they think a good way to show Utahns the horror of what life will be like in the state without the food tax is to ding a few people now.

You see, the Human Services advocates aren't playing ball. Traditionally, when Merrill Cook's conservative followers threaten to take away state funds with a tax-cutting initiative, the Human Services groups scream bloody murder. They're first in line denouncing the initiatives.

But this time around they've been waiting nervously, refusing to oppose or endorse the food-tax initiative. Their natural political allies - the Democrats - are in favor of removing the food tax - with the proviso that other taxes be raised if needed to offset the loss. The Human Service groups - knowing that the food tax takes a bigger percentage bite out of poor people's pockets than any other tax - are hoping to get their cake, the $8 million, and taste the sweet food-tax cut cake as well.

The Republican thinking is: After all, if we give 'em $8 million now, they'll think they won't get hurt by the food-tax removal, there'll be no incentive to side with us - the Republican leaders who oppose cutting the tax. They'll side with the Democrats, who want Utahns to believe we can cut $90 million from state revenues with no harm to anyone. If the food tax passes, we majority Republicans may have to take the heat for cutting programs next year or raising some other tax - one that Republican stalwarts wouldn't like - to make up the difference.

Politically, the Democrats and Cook have boxed the Republicans in.

And so they strike back. Understandable.

The only trouble is, this time poor, hungry people are hurt.

Could the Republicans take back the $1 million sales- tax break they gave last session to ski resorts? No, too late for that.

Could they not spend $1.8 million to buy the Heber Creeper? No, too late for that.

Could they take back the $500,000 they're spending on remodeling their own Capitol offices and meeting rooms? No, too late for that also.

There's only time before the food-tax election to keep $8 million from poor, hungry, sick folks and hope citizens won't see it for what it is, an attempt to sway votes against the removal of the sales tax from food.