Because supporters of the tax initiatives can't agree even among themselves how to reduce taxes, the ballot questions should be defeated, according to a spokesman for a group organized to oppose the initiatives.
Examples of disagreements among the pro-tax initiative groups surfaced during a debate Tuesday sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Salt Lake City.Members of both groups crowded into a large conference room at the Red Lion to hear from representatives of Taxpayers For Utah, which opposes the initiatives, and the Tax Limitation Coalition, which supports them.
Local attorney James Jardine, speaking on behalf of Taxpayers For Utah, reminded the audience that the coalition does not reflect the position of two other critics of high taxes who have called for reductions through the initiative process.
Jardine said that the Utah Taxpayers Association supports only one of the three initiatives that the coalition got on the November ballot by circulating petitions statewide.
The 66-year-old association, which describes itself as working "for more effective and efficient use of tax dollars," recently issued a press release stating its concern about the number of initiatives on the ballot.
The release warned that "voters will be confused and the votes of the moderates will be split among the three" and stated full support only for the People's Tax and Spending Limitation Amendment.
The limitation initiative would cap property tax levels and limit government spending according to a complicated formula. The People's Tax Reduction Act would roll back the tax increases passed by the 1987 Legislature. The Utah Family Choice in Education Act would give parents who have children in private schools a tax credit.
Jardine also told the standing-room only crowd that third-party gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, who ran at the urging of the coalition, does not agree with the property tax caps set in the limitation initiative.
Cook has said that if the limitation initiative passes, the Legislature should increase the property tax caps from 0.75 percent of the fair market value of residential property to 0.9 percent, and from 1 percent to 1.2 percent for commercial property.
Neither the coalition nor the Utah Taxpayers Association has taken a position on Cook's proposal.
Mills Crenshaw, a radio talk-show host and a spokesman for the coalition, did not directly address Jardine's remarks about the lack of agreement among the tax protesters.
Instead, Crenshaw told the civic leaders that the dire predictions made by opponents of tax limitation initiatives in other states never came true. Instead, he said, the economy has improved in those states.
Crenshaw accused opponents of going to war against taxpayers and said the Taxpayers For Utah represent "tax spenders" rather than taxpayers. He said that government officials shouldn't be considered above making budget reductions.
"If you can do it in your business and if you can do it in your family, why are these people suddenly deities?" he asked. "You wouldn't like it. It wouldn't be fun. But you could do it without taking bread out of your children's mouths."
Several times, Crenshaw repeated a slogan of the tax limitation movement, "Prosperity follows a tax cut" and said that Utah's economy needs the boost that the initiatives would provide.
Both sides disagreed on the percentage that the initiatives would reduce government budgets. Crenshaw said it would be 6 percent at the most, while Jardine said the initiatives would cut as much as 13 percent from all government budgets.
Jardine said that with the recent tax reduction passed during a special session of the Legislature, the amount of the cuts mandated by the initiatives was reduced from about $349 million to between $320 million and $325 million.