Gov. Norm Bangerter says he is not a thief and is hopping mad about a lawn-sign campaign that suggests he is.

Lawn signs that began springing up around Salt Lake City on Sunday say, "Stop Thief, Vote Bangerter Out.""Everyone knows I'm not a thief," Bangerter said at a press conference early Monday morning. "This is in incredibly poor taste."

The group that placed the 125 or so signs is called the Stop Thief Committee, said group spokesman Jim Kirkwood. The group is independent, and not affiliated with the tax-initiative movement or the gubernatorial campaigns of Democrat Ted Wilson or independent Merrill Cook, he said.

"We are not talking about the governor in a personal sense. We know he is an honorable man, and would like to return him to the private sector so he can spend more time on his church duties," Kirkwood, a former local radio talk show host, said.

"These signs are not meant to attack him personally, but to attack his performance as governor. We feel the tax initiatives would essentially return stolen funds to the taxpayers," Kirkwood said.

However, others who support the tax initiatives were trying Monday to put distance between themselves and Kirkwood's group. Utah Tax Limitation Coalition leader Greg Beesley stressed that his pro-tax initiative group had nothing to do with those signs, as did gubernatorial candidate Cook.

"I hope that this kind of tasteless campaigning won't reflect on the tax initiative movement," Cook said.

Bangerter urged the Stop Thief Committee to "look at issues rather than impugning my motives. . . . Let's debate the issues, let's debate where they think cuts can be made."

Bangerter, who was wearing a `Utah: a pretty, great state" T-shirt, was joined at the press conference by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, Bangerter's campaign chairman. Garn said the lawn signs are "cheap politics," and that he has seen nothing so low in his 21 years of holding political office in Utah.