The organization formed to fight the tax initiatives has its "snout in the public trough," the Utah Taxpayers Association said, suggesting that the $600,000 budgeted for a "brainwashing campaign" be spent on government programs.
In a sharply worded, 2 1/2-page press release issued Wednesday, the 66-year-old association also accused the recently formed Taxpayers for Utah of trying to confuse voters into believing the two organizations are the same.The release comes two days after Taxpayers for Utah kicked off its effort to defeat the initiatives at a press conference attended by many of its more prominent members, including former Gov. Scott M. Matheson.
The Utah Taxpayers Association, which serves as a watchdog on a wide variety of tax-related issues, endorses only one of the three tax initiatives that will appear on the November ballot, the People's Tax and Spending Limitation Amendment.
The 3,000-member association helped draft the limitation initiative, which would cap property tax levels and limit government spending according to a complicated formula. However, the association is not a member of the Tax Limitation Coalition of Utah, which circulated the initiative petitions.
Taxpayers for Utah opposes the limitation initiative as well as initiatives that would roll back tax increases approved by the 1987 Legislature and provide tax credits to parents with children in private schools.
"Taxpayers for Utah really represents those in our state who have their snout in the public trough," association spokesman Jack Olson said in the release, adding that members benefit from higher state and local taxes and an expanded role of government.
He predicted that the organization's "expensive brainwashing campaign" would backfire and criticized what he described as the "attitude that a few politicians have a corner on the wisdom market and that 100,000 citizens who have signed petitions do not know what is good for them."
Olson also criticized the amount of money being spent to oppose the initiatives. "If they've got that kind of money to throw around, maybe they ought to give it to the schools and social programs they say need it so desperately," he said in the release.
And Olson complained that the choice of the name, Taxpayers for Utah, was "an attempt to confuse and deceive" the public. "Many people feel they are trying to steal our name or are trying to capitalize on our 66-year reputation," he said.
The release also contained a slap at the state Tax Commission. Olson said in the release that the commission's claim that the limitation initiative would cut property taxes by $176 million was "grossly exaggerated."
Placing the actual figure at closer to $80 million, Olson said, "We feel the commission has exaggerated the cuts in an attempt to defeat the initiative."
A spokesman for the commission, Lee Shaw, said that the report assessing the amount of revenue that would be lost if the initiatives passed was prepared "factually and fairly" and not for any "ulterior purpose."
The campaign manager for Taxpayers for Utah, Phil Mettra, said the organization would not stoop to the same tactics as its opposition. Sticking to the facts, he said, will win votes.
"We are not making outlandish comments like they are. We will run a very clean campaign," Mettra said. "When people can see through all the emotion they're trying to work up, I think they'll make the logical choice."
He countered the claims that the organization was trying to mislead the public by saying that the members of the organization "are very credible people. They did not get where they are by lying."