State and local officials are spending the equivalent of $2.5 million to $5 million in tax dollars to fight tax-limitation initiatives by propagandizing public employees on work time, says independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook.
"We think that's unconscionable," the tax limitation proponent said at a Monday morning press conference in the Governor's Board Room.Cook said he estimated that cost by figuring that 60 to 70 percent of public budgets are wages, salaries and employee benefits, and that the average state or local employee is being asked to spend an hour and a half to two hours in anti-tax-initiative briefings.
Cook said Salt Lake County commissioners' response to his complaints last week about county anti-initiative meetings on work time was "wholly inadequate." He said the commissioners may have relabeled the meetings and instructed seminar leaders to avoid specific statements urging employees to vote against the initiatives, but the meetings' purpose remains the same.
"They're calling those meetings to threaten employees with job loss if the tax initiatives pass."
Cook said Gov. Norm Bangerter's instructions last week that state meetings to discuss the initiatives not be held during work hours was late in coming but still much better than the county's response. He said dozens if not hundreds of state meetings were held before the governor's memorandum went out, a charge that Bangerter's chief of staff, Reed Searle, denied.
Searle said the governor found out about three meetings being scheduled on work time and had them canceled, and he knows of none that took place.
Cook also criticized the governor for "sitting on" a report by a volunteer committee about ways to improve cost-effectiveness at the University of Utah, the state Health Department and Granite School District.
He called on Bangerter to release the report, which he said has been completed for weeks or months but apparently is being suppressed because it supports his contentions of government waste.
Bangerter told reporters he has seen draft copies of the report but has not received a final version, and he will release it as soon as he gets it, which he expects to be before the elections.
He said the report is certain to be controversial, and he thinks some of the businessmen who make up the committee have gone too far in their recommendations. He also said it is in poor taste for committee members to leak results of the report before presenting it to him. Asked if he knew of specific leaks, he said no, but that Cook and his people obviously "have some kind of pipeline into that information."