The tax limitation forces have lost two battles but shouldn't give up the war, former gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook told Davis County Independent Party members Thursday.
Cook, who lost in his own bid for governor in 1988, said the struggle to lower taxes in the state is a meaningful one, pointing to the proposed $3.5 billion state budget for next year.He charged the budget has increased almost $1 million since the tax limitation movement formed 21/2 years ago, adding that state officials and the legislature still haven't gotten the message that Utahns want lower, not higher, taxes and spending levels.
"The public is not grasping the importance of the governor's latest budget and what it really means," Cook told about a dozen party members. "The state is going to spend $3.53 billion next year. They're just not getting the message.
He charged that during the recent sales-tax limitation initiative, he and other supporters repeatedly asked the governor and state budget office the size of the budget surplus.
No accurate information was released, Cook said, and it's only now that the real amount of the surplus - which he put at $545 million - is showing up. To cover that up, state officials are spreading it out over two fiscal years, Cook charged.
"If the people of Utah had known the real size of the budget surplus, which is three to four times the size of what the state was saying, there's no question that the people would have voted for a tax cut," Cook said.
Despite the failure this fall of the sales-tax limitation initiative and the previous failure of the movement to roll back property tax levels, Cook said the tax limitation movement is viable.
"We shouldn't give up. We need to keep working toward the goal of a tax cut, whether it's on property, sales, gasoline, income or whatever tax," said Cook.
He said polling done by Independent Party members among conservative Republican delegates shows a disenchantment with the party and views that closely parallel their own, especially on taxes and committing public money to fund the Olympics.
The Independent Party needs to either tap into that support or, Cook said, rejoin the GOP but only as a voting block and only if the party welcomes them back.
"It's something I think we need to examine, to see how we can be most effective, whether as an independent party - that's independent with a small `i' - or as part of the Republican party," Cook said.
"And I wouldn't go back alone, only if the rest of the Independent party went back with me, as a bloc."
Cook also urged party members to work toward term limitations, saying it appears to be the only way to get rid of incumbents and bring in new representatives.
He endorsed an eight-year limit on state offices, including legislators, and eight years on congressional representatives. U.S. senators, who serve six-year terms, should be limited to 12 years, or two terms, Cook said.
"Term limitation is the key to recruiting good candidates to run on a tax limitation platform. It's working in other states and it would work in Utah, too," Cook said, noting that outgoing Gov. Norm Bangerter recently endorsed the idea - but only after Bangerter decided voluntarily to limit his term as governor to eight years.