Do you think an income tax reform plan that would give a tax break to 90 percent of Utahns and was revenue neutral so the hard-pressed state wouldn't suffer has a chance in the 1991 Legislature?

Most would say yes, it will sail through.But it won't.

You see, the above income tax reform is a Democratic plan. And in a Republican-controlled Legislature, Democratic tax plans die quick and quiet deaths.

The Democratic plan is doubly cursed, however, for it calls for removal of what has become the great sacred cow of Republican tax policy - the little-known and less-understood federal tax deduction.

First, a bit of history.

In 1987 GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter asked the Legislature for a $230 million tax increase. Part of his package was rebracketing the state income tax to make it fairer and doing away with the deduction on state returns for federal income taxes paid.

His GOP colleagues in the House and Senate wouldn't bite the whole tax increase, and they wouldn't rebracket the income tax to make it more progressive. In fact, Republicans alone couldn't get the tax package passed. They needed Democratic help - and Democrats agreed to vote for a sales tax increase if the federal deduction was removed.

The deal was struck. About $165 million in new taxes went on the books - including an increase in the sales tax and removing the federal deduction.

The political fallout was quick. Big-ticket Utahns, most of them Republicans, saw an immediate jump in their state income tax withholding.

You see, a sales tax increase is a hidden tax hike. You pay it every day on all the small purchases you make. But an income tax hike - and remember this was a tax hike on everyone who pays state and federal income tax, although it hit the wealthy a lot more than the low-income - is very visible.

Republican big-hitters were mad. Come 1988, when Bangerter and much of the Legislature were running for re-election, they heard that anger.

So, a special session was called and part of that federal deduction was put back on. A year later - fall 1989 - another chunk of the federal deduction was added in - all over the objections of the Democrats who said, rightly so, that Republicans were going back on the deal struck when the sales tax and federal deduction were adjusted. All told, you can now deduct 50 percent of your federal income tax on your state income tax returns.

Now the Democrats, buoyed by legislative victories in November, want to make the income tax more progressive, give a tax break to the family of four making $65,000 a year or less. They say such a change means lower income taxes for 90 percent of Utahns, while the top 10 percent wage earners pay more.

How could a group of 104 lawmakers turn down such an offer?

Wait and see. They will.

Bangerter and his Republican allies in the House and Senate will pull out all the stops. They'll argue that increasing the tax on the rich will harm economic development, that big-time businessmen won't want to locate a business in Utah.

They'll argue that a tax on a tax isn't fair.

But what the Republicans won't be saying publicly is that they got kicked in their collective shins by big campaign donors and constituents for eliminating the federal deduction once and they won't make the same mistake again.

Is the Democratic plan fairer than the current system? Yes.

Would it really help the average Utah family in difficult economic times? Yes.

Would it harm economic development? Unlikely. Income taxes on rich business owners are not a major concern in locating businesses, numerous surveys show.

Is a tax on a tax unfair? Sure, but Utah is one of only six states that currently gives a federal income tax deduction, so certainly most other states don't worry about such fairness.

No, the Democrat tax plan will fail in the Utah Legislature next year not because it isn't worthy. It will fail because of the partisan, hard-headed politics.