The legislative special session has been over for a week, but Republicans and Democrats continue to bicker over the merits of what happened.
"Partisan politics got in the way of clear thinking, and we all are the losers," said House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, during a Tuesday press conference."Unfortunately, the only conclusion which appropriately applies to this last special session of the Legislature is that petty party politics triumphed at the expense of prudent public policy and common sense."
Those comments prompted Gov. Norm Bangerter to call his own press conference to level some charges of his own. "What the Democrats want is to spend the money. They have no intention of cutting taxes," he said.
The angry exchange, which included mutual allegations of election-year politicking, started when House Democrats called a press conference to vent their frustrations over the way Democrats were treated by Republicans during the recent special session.
Dmitrich, who was joined in the press conference by other legislative leaders, said the legislature acted with unnecessary haste when it rubber stamped Gov. Norm Bangerter's income tax rebate plan - a plan Democrats say is based on incomplete and uncertain economic data.
The Legislature met in special session July 5 to deal with a $110 million budget surplus and to adjust income tax rates downward. The Republican majority supported Bangerter's plan, while Democrats argued for deeper income tax reforms and alternatives to the rebate plan.
If the governor would have waited until October to deal with the budget surplus, Dmitrich added, then more accurate projections of next year's revenue could be made and responsible tax reform could be initiated.
The issue was not that one party wanted to cut taxes and the other did not, he said. "Rather the issue was one party (Republican) wanted to implement a system which benefited a very few individuals at the expense of the majority of Utahns."
When Democrats disputed the governor's claim that there is a $110 million surplus, Dale Hatch, the director of the Office of Budget and Planning, angrily responded that his office, the State Tax Commission, and the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office all agreed on the amount of the surplus.
He also denied claims the Democrats were not involved in any planning meetings with Bangerter's aids or legislative analysts. Hatch said he was personally present at such meetings on at least four occasions.
Hatch also supported the rebate plan implemented during the special session, saying "all it did was change the mechanism and timing" for returning the surplus. Because of a House bill passed in February, the same amount of money would have been returned to taxpayers (via a tax credit) and the tax rates would have been lowered over time by the same amounts.
Bangerter admitted that revenue projections are rarely accurate, but they are the best the state has to work with when implementing a budget.
"I do not have great confidence in those who project revenue in the Tax Commission. I've been very disappointed for last two years about their absolute inability to even come close. Still, they're the best source of information I have."