Backers of an initiative to take the sales tax off food kicked off the final leg of their campaign by accusing Gov. Norm Bangerter of withholding information about how much bigger next year's budget will be.
The governor responded by detailing revenue projections to reporters less than an hour after Independent Party Chairman Merrill Cook made the charge during a Tuesday press conference.And Bangerter, who says he opposes the initiative because he believes state and local governments can't afford to lose a total of $113 million in sales tax revenues, came up with an even higher budget figure than Cook did.
Cook said the amount of money the state will accumulate over what was budgeted this year is $130 million, an amount that will appear on 80,000 fliers the Independent Party plans to distribute statewide.
The governor tallied up $200 million that lawmakers should be able to spend for the budget year that begins July 1, 1991. But Bangerter quickly pointed out that most of that money is as good as spent.
He detailed a list of planned expenditures, including $85 million to cover an anticipated 5 percent increase in inflation, that add up to a total of $165 million.
"We're not holding anything back," the governor said as he scribbled numbers with a marking pen on a large, wipe-clean board in front of television cameras and reporters.
His calculations reflect the type of budget he expects to present to lawmakers before the 1991 Legislature convenes in January - unless the initiative is approved by voters on Election Day.
Bangerter vowed again not to raise other taxes to make up for the loss in sales tax if the initiative passes. But he said voters should expect local governments to raise property taxes to make up for the loss they'll face.
"There will absolutely, unquestionably be a property tax increase," the governor said. "It's not something I like, it's not something I'm threatening."
Cook disagrees that the state will suffer if the sales tax is removed from food and believes the Legislature will make up the loss to local governments, which receive about 1 cent of every 6 cents of sales taxes collected.
"People need to realize that with or without the passage of Initiative A, the state budget is going to increase next year," Cook said. "That's a relevant piece of information, and the public has a right to know."
With passage, the increase in the state budget would be 1.5 percent or nearly $3.3 million. Without it, the increase would be 4 percent or almost $3.8 million, according to Cook's calculations.
Cook also took a swipe at higher education spending. Most of the opposition to the initiative is coming from the Board of Regents and other higher education officials.
He complained that taxpayers subsidize too much of the tuition paid by out-of-state students at the University of Utah and that professors there don't spend enough hours teaching.
A U. spokesman said the state funds only about $120 million of the university's $580 million annual budget. The rest comes from a variety of other sources including research grants.
"Cook isn't looking at the whole picture," said Larry Weist, news director for the university. "This university generates a lot of money for the state."
State money coming, going
$100 million - Projected increase in income tax collections and other revenues
$50 million - Surplus left over from budget year that ended July 1, 1990
$50 million - Surplus expected to be left over from current budget year, which ends July 1, 1991
The state also has an additional $50 million in a "rainy-day fund."
$85 million - 5 percent increase in all budgets for inflation
$25 million - Additional students in both public and higher education
$15 million - State's contribution to public education technology program
$5 million - Asbestos removal in public schools
$10 million - Anticipated reductions in federal programs that will have to be made up by state
$25 million - Anticipated increases in spending required to meet federal mandates