The group formed by the Utah State Board of Regents to fight the food-tax initiative is the first political issues committee to register with the state under a new law.
Regent Michael Leavitt filed a statement of organization with the lieutenant governor's office last week on behalf of Utahns For Higher Education, listing himself as the committee's chief financial officer.Lawmakers decided last session that organized efforts to support or defeat ballot issues should be treated similarly to groups formed to give money to candidates sympathetic to their causes.
Under the political issues committee law, such groups must file with the lieutenant governor's office within seven days after receiving or spending at least $750.
They must also make financial reports before both the primary and then 30 days after the general election. Because Utahns For Higher Education registered after the primary election, its first financial statement is due Nov. 1.
Leavitt said that the regents' group hasn't spent any money yet but has contributions and commitments for donations that add up to about $9,000 from about 225 regents, faculty and others associated with higher education.
"I expect we'll spend most of it. Things are going as well as we could hope for at this point," Leavitt said. "But when there's as much at stake as there is, our goal has to be to do all we can until the sixth of November."
Polls show that most voters oppose the initiative to take the sales tax off food, which would cost state and local governments $113 million in lost revenues. Higher education stands to lose the biggest chunk of the state's $90 million share, about $31 million.
That threat, along with concern over how to pay for the dramatic increase in the student body expected no matter what happens to the initiative, has made the higher education system the initiative's most vocal opponent.
The group went first to regents and institutional council members, asking the regents for contributions of $150 each and $100 from each of the institutional council members.
While those donations are expected to add up to as much as $5,000, about half as much is being raised in contributions as small as $5 or $10 from faculty members and others, Leavitt said.
Two of the state's most politically active organizations, the Utah Education Association and the Utah Public Employees Association, are expected to give money to the effort. Both have come out against the initiative.
The UEA has committed to giving Utahns For Higher Education $2,000, which would be the largest contribution so far to the campaign, according to Leavitt.
A $1,000 donation from UPEA is likely now that another, broader-based group of opponents to the food-tax initiative has apparently decided not to conduct a campaign of its own.
Leavitt said the group will probably raise $4,000 more or so, giving it a total of about $13,000 to spend on polling and advertising before the Nov. 6 general election.