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The Utah Restaurant Association is aiming to pull the tablecloth out from under counties that decide to set a 1 percent restaurant tax on the public table.

The organization has begun preliminary discussions with the governor's officer for clearance to circulate petitions to repeal the law through a statewide referendum. It takes the certified signatures of 65,000 registered voters to place the issue on a general election ballot. Ron Morgan, restaurant association president, said the group is hoping to pose the question to voters either this year or next.The Utah County Commission is leaning toward imposing the optional tax to pay off a proposed general obligation bond for a $7.7 million special events center at Utah Valley Community College. A special bond election is set for April 9. The county will discuss whether to impose the tax next week.

A scenario that could emerge would have the commission adopting the tax, county voters approving the bond and voters statewide repealing the tax.

That would force the county to look for alternative sources to cover the bond. Commissioner Gary Herbert said alternatives could include raising property tax. The county initially planned to pay off any bond approved by voters with a property tax increase. That changed when the restaurant tax became an option.

But Herbert said that scenario has too many "what if's."

"I'm going to have to go with what's on the table," he said. The possible referendum, Herbert said, is not likely to affect the commission's decision on the tax.

Herbert said he's skeptical the tax will be repealed.

Morgan, on the other hand, believes it will.

"We feel very confident that people understand they don't have to pay this," he said.

Gathering signatures shouldn't be much of a problem, he said. The association plans to place petitions in eating establishments throughout the state. "We are committed to the referendum. We are going for it all the way," he said.

Morgan said raising the transient room tax is a better way to pay for tourist, recreation and conventional facilities. Visitors to the state should absorb those costs, he said. But Utah's philosophy, he says, is "let's not tax the visitor, but impose the tax on our residents."