Does Utah suffer from endless government spending increases and education problems that stem from a strangle hold by a teachers union?Are individuals promoting the Tax Limitation Initiatives ignorant and uninformed about Utah's unique demographics and the realities of Utah's governmental balance sheet?
The debate over the tax initiatives that will face Utah voters in November continued Friday at a debate in Park City at the Utah Farm Bureau Federation's midyear conference, but an abyss filled with conflicting statistics, demographics and projections still separates proponents and opponents of the initiatives.
Jack Olson, speaking for the Utah Taxpayers Association, said the state's taxing rates scare businesses away from Utah more than any other factor.
The Utah Taxpayers Association supports the initiative that would limit property taxes, one of three initiatives that will appear on the November ballot. The group has not taken a position on the other initiatives, which would roll back tax increases passed by the 1987 Legislature and give parents of children in private schools a tax credit.
Patrick Shea, representing Taxpayers For Utah, said all three initiatives would ax about $322 million from the state budget. The biggest question businesses have when considering a Utah location is education, not taxes, he said.
Taxpayers For Utah, an organization headed by former Gov. Scott M. Matheson, recently announced its plans to spend up to $600,000 to defeat all three initiatives.
Olson said Utah is known elsewhere in the nation as U-tax. He called a 40 percent property tax increase approved recently by the West Jordan City Council "criminal" and said information about tax needs from state government are so far from accurate that they can't be trusted.
State tax increases in 1986 were supposed to generate an additional $162 million, but instead they brought $272 million. "How can you believe (state) figures when they're 100 percent off on the effects of the tax increase?" he asked.
Olson said the initiatives, if passed, would help the educational system by fostering competition, which would be better for schools and "loosen the stranglehold the Utah Education Association has on schools."
Shea said those promoting tax limitation are "radical know-nothing thinkers" who want to make tax cuts without addressing the specific issues of which taxes are to be cut. "They don't think about what's going to happen tomorrow. They don't think about the harvest of those young people who are not going to be able to compete with California, or Massachusetts or the Japanese because they haven't been educated."
Olson said Utah, as of 1986, had the eighth highest income-related taxes, ninth highest sales taxes and 13th highest sales taxes in the country. The trend will continue if not checked because "government never has enough," he said.
Shea said Utah has fewer government employees per 10,000 population than any other state, a sign of the state's frugality.
Shea said the initiatives, if they pass, could cost farmers the exemptions on farm taxes that now help them survive financially. "Tell me what would happen in January of 1989 when the Legislature is faced with a cut of $320 million to $350 million. Are they going to let those exemptions stay? I don't think so. They're going to say `let's make sure that our schools are maintained. Let's make sure that our roads are there and that chuckholes can be filled.' "
Olson closed his remarks by saying he could not believe a conservative organization like the Utah Farm Bureau would take a stand against the initiatives.
"The reason this intelligent group of people did that is because they understand that you reap what you sew," Shea said. "And if you are going to act in an irresponsible way, it may not hit you tomorrow, it may not hit you next week, but its going to hit you sometime, and when it hits you, you may not be able to recover."