The battle over the tax-cutting initiatives officially started Monday, with opponents of the three measures saying they will spend upward of $600,000 to educate Utahns and proponents saying they will carry the fight with little money but the support of their petition signers.
Both groups held press conferences Monday morning to detail where they go from here. Taxpayers For Utah, the group of business, public and private entities opposing the measures, promised "a full, active, statewide campaign."The Utah Tax Limitation Coalition, the citizen group in favor of the initiatives, said Utahns won't be fooled by Taxpayers For Utah, headed by former Gov. Scott M. Matheson and supported by the main party gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Democrat Ted Wilson.
Matheson said the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts could come in the areas of health, education and social services. He said that in addition to $349 million in tax losses, an additional $30 million to $50 million could be lost in federal matching funds.
Coalition spokesman Mills Cren-shaw said the initiative movement is separate from the gubernatorial race but added that only independent candidate Merrill Cook has the answers to managing state government with the tax cuts in place and that Bangerter and Wilson are part of the effort to defeat the initiatives.
Matheson, co-chairman and spokesman for Taxpayers For Utah, said he's not concerned that public opinion polls show that two of the three initiatives are favored by Utahns. A recent Deseret News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows that 58 percent of those questioned favor eliminating the 1987 tax increase of $160 million, while 54 percent favor the property tax limitation initiative. Jones found only 40 percent support for the initiative that would give an income tax credit to parents whose children are in private schools.
All three initiatives will be on the Nov. 8 general ballot for voter consideration.
Monday's battle of the press conferences shows that the fight will be bitter, expensive and may go down to the wire.
Taxpayers For Utah had dozens of its supporters on hand, each outlining who he or she represented. Added up, those present said more than 135,000 members of their organizations will be directly asked to vote against the measures.
The Taxpayers For Utah looks like a Who's Who in Utah business, education and government. Lined up against the initiatives are mayors, counties, public safety leaders, the PTA, the teachers' union, chambers of commerce, the groups that represent retired people, labor unions, the Farm Bureau and about every social service group in the state.
Against them stand Crenshaw, Cook and the 70,000 voters who signed the initiative petitions in the first place.
Crenshaw said that Bangerter, Matheson and Wilson should be know as BMW. "Just ask any yuppie and they'll tell you that a BMW is a lot of flash but a real waste of money."
He said that while Matheson may speak today, Bangerter or Wilson will be saying the same things about the initiatives. "It's a three-headed monster: Screw one head off and put on another one."
Matheson said even though the races for the U.S. Senate and governor are important in Utah this year, "in my opinion these initiatives are more important to our future than who will be senator or governor - they are a major, major public policy decision" that will affect education, economic development and government services for years to come.
The two groups still don't agree on the basic numbers of the debate. Matheson said studies inside and outside of government show the initiatives will cost schools, state and local governments $349 million the first year. Crenshaw said the number is more like $300 million. Matheson said the initiatives mean a 13-15 percent cut in state government. Cren-shaw said it is really 5-6 percent.
Cook was at the Crenshaw press conference and said voters deserve to hear how candidates for governor would deal with the tax cuts, instead of candidates just telling voters to vote against the initiatives. He said those against the petitions, especially Bangerter and Wilson, are like a Mafia godfather. Speaking in a rather poor imitation of Italian accent, Cook said one doesn't have to throw elderly people out in the streets or cut out kindergarten to implement the tax-cutting initiatives.
Cook reiterated his plan, reported earlier in the Deseret News, of how he would trim $150 million from state government - its share of a 5-6 percent cut in revenues.
Matheson and others demanded that Crenshaw's group say where they would cut the money from schools and state and local government. Crenshaw said it is the responsibility of those seeking and holding office to detail where the cuts will be made. "But," he said, "if they won't do it (list cuts) then we may have to do it for them."
Both Matheson and Crenshaw said that later they will make public lists of contributors and where money for their causes has been spent. "But we don't have much to say, we've only spent about $7,000 or $8,000," said Crenshaw.
Matheson said his group has raised about $100,000 so far. "We will list all of our contributors and our expenses, as we should," he said.