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.