"Big Mac. Fries. A Coke (diet). And how about signing our petition?"
If the Utah Restaurant Association has its way, patrons may find that request tacked onto the end of their orders at Utah restaurants.A petition asking patrons to take the bite out of a new law permitting counties to impose a 1 percent tax on restaurant food could soon be in eateries statewide in 30 days.
It must be approved by the state attorney general's office and prepared by Lt. Gov. Val Oveson before the petition can began gathering signatures.
The association needs 65,000 signatures to get the tax issue on the 1992 general election ballot. Voters then could decide whether they want to keep paying the tax the Legislature imposed.
According to Ron Morgan, association president, the petition will basically say this: "Do you want to pay the tax and support facilities like the Salt Palace? Or do you want Utah be like every other state and have tourists and those people using the facility pay for it?"
Utah County commissioners already have indicated their intent to impose the tax, and voters have approved a plan to use the money to build a new special events center at Utah Valley Community College.
Davis County Commissioners haven't determined if they'll levy the tax. "We have had preliminary discussions, but at this stage we are sitting tight," said Gayle Stevenson, chairman, Davis County Commission. "I don't think the opportunity will go away."
Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said the tax will be used for the maintenance and operation of the county's Convention Facility (Salt Palace), Symphony Hall, Arts Center and the Capitol Theatre - "very valuable resources for the community."
"It also doesn't preclude us from using part of that income for recreational and tourist-related facilities throughout the county," he said.
But association members want the commission to look elsewhere for the dough.
"If we don't fight this tax, it will go to 2 percent, then 3 percent, then 4 percent," Morgan said. "We find that county government doesn't understand what budgeting is. They seem to feel they have an endless source of money."
It's not that the association is opposed to Salt Palace renovation.
"We agree the Salt Palace needs to be remodeled and updated, but if we don't have the $60-plus million to do it, maybe we should cut down on the size of the facility and build something we can afford," Morgan said.
Or, the facility could be closed - "if that's what they prefer."
"It's an option, but not one we are going to consider," an irritated Bradley said. "The county doesn't profit one iota from any activity at the Salt Palace. But for the public good, we will continue to operate it."
Bradley thinks the Utah Restaurant Association is "being extremely short-sided and behaving like a dog in the manger on this issue."
The association counters that the commission is spreading false propaganda.
"The county keeps telling everyone that it's a restaurant tax. But it costs the (restaurant) operator zero," Morgan said. "It's a tax they are imposing on the children who go to McDonalds to buy a Happy Meal."
The kids are paying for renovations at the Salt Palace, when the county, instead, should be taxing out-of-state guests and people who use the facility, he added.
Bradley finds that reasoning ironic, especially when it was the Utah Restaurant Association itself that proposed that a portion of the 1 percent tax go to the Utah Travel Council for tourism advertising out-of-state.
"Then they weren't terribly worried about young kids buying hamburgers," he said.
If the association is successful in getting the law repealed, the obligation of renovating the Salt Palace would fall back on home owners through property taxes. "It would be homeowners who would pay, instead of the restaurants who benefit from Salt Palace and other recreational and tourism activities," he said. "That's pretty self-serving on their part."