Opponents of Initiative A - removal of Utah's food sales tax - say it could have disastrous ramifications, not only for higher education but also for the lower-income families that proponents claim it will benefit.
Paul Rogers - a member of the Utah State Board of Regents, the controlling body for the state's higher education programs - said in a Tuesday night debate that the food tax removal would cost the state approximately $113 million, including $20 million from county and city governmental services."What happens is that the government cannot continue to provide social service programs, such as badly needed health programs, for some of the groups the initiative's proponents say it will aid."
The initiative would take away approximately $31 million from the annual higher education budget, a move that would amount to the state closing Weber State College or a combined package of the closure of Utah Valley Community College and Salt Lake Community College, Rogers said.
"I don't think the proponents have looked at the issue comprehensively. The loss in revenue would be an enormous pill to swallow, and I don't think anyone in their right mind would support such a thing."
However, according to Initiative A supporter Merrill Cook, enormous surpluses - including those from higher sales taxes imposed after the disastrous 1983 flooding - could easily take care of the revenue shortfalls.
"The revenue lost from the cuts would amount to only about 3 percent of total state spending, while that surplus amounts to almost 5 percent of the budget."
Also, more effective use of the annual state budgeting would allow Utah to not rely so heavily on its surplus to provide adequate funding, said Cook, chairman of the state's Independent Party.
"Only the state government has made out better during the inflationary period in this state. What happens if this initiative passes is that government will continue to grow, just not as quickly."
Currently, Utah taxes its residents more than almost every other state, according to Cook. To illustrate his point, he used the example of the Laffer Curve, an economic theory that holds when when taxation rates continue to grow, so does governmental size and spending until taxation cannot provide adequate revenue for those costs.
"All this tax removal would do is to keep down some salary hikes for public employees and ensure that teaching hours for professors don't continue to go down, since it will postpone some pay raises for professors."
Cook calls the food tax "a regressive tax," because since everyone in the state buys food, the tax affects everyone. He said he and Utah Taxpayers Association oppose all forms of taxation - including property, income and franchised utility - but especially the food tax for the aforementioned reason.
The truly needy - including low-income families - often use the federal food stamp program for their food purchases, meaning they don't pay the food tax, Rogers said.
"The most needy are food-sales-tax-free. Without the revenues generated through that tax will we be able to get the benefits of the federal and state government to them?"