State Tax Commissioner Roger O. Tew was confirmed by the Utah Senate for a four-year term Wednesday, but only after six Republican senators voted against him, saying they didn't like the job he's done and didn't trust his revenue projections.
Tew was caught in the bitter battle between Republican and Democratic senators over income tax policy. And there was still personal bad blood over the days Tew served the Legislature itself.First, Gov. Norm Bangerter hesitated in renominating Tew. Bangerter has suffered more before the voting public than any senator over the state's taxing policies. The governor first promised not to raise taxes for two years. After two years he then suggested the largest tax increase in the state's history. After getting most of that increase, Bangerter - using Tax Commission revenue forecasts - saw a record income tax surplus, and then gave most of that back to taxpayers this year.
The up-and-down tax revenue has led his Democratic opponent, Ted Wilson, to term Bangerter's taxing policies "yo-yo economics."
After waiting several months after Tew's current term expired, Gov. Norm Bangerter decided two weeks ago to renominate him, saying there was no better qualified Democrat for the post. (By law, Tew's seat must go to a Democrat.)
Before joining the commission, Tew worked for a long time as a legislative staff member. He was an attorney in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. He was the acting director of the office for several months, but legislative bosses - lead by several senators - decided not to give Tew the permanent directorship. Tew resigned from legislative research, was unemployed for a time before Bangerter nominated him to fill the unexpired term of a Democratic tax commissioner who left to go back to university teaching.
Tew has been an outspoken commissioner. Because of his previous relationship with lawmakers (he worked as a legislative staff member), he was picked to represent the commission before the Legislature. That is where he locked horns with Sen. K.S. Cornaby, R-Salt Lake.
Cornaby represents the affluent Olympus Cove area of Salt Lake County. The senator fought hard against a compromise plan proposed as part of the 1987 tax hike that did away with the deduction of state income taxes for federal income taxes paid. That deduction increased the taxes greatly for the well-to-do.
Tew, speaking on behalf of the commission, was an advocate of doing away with that deduction, saying it was a regressive tax policy. Cornaby and other senators didn't forget.
Cornaby listed another reason, however, in voting against Tew. "Erroneous tax-revenue projects, while unintentional, have been disastrous for this state," Cornaby said. He blames Tew for those inaccurate projections. The errors "have brought a major confrontation to Utah with the tax initiatives."
Sen. Richard Carling, R-Salt Lake, also opposed Tew, saying that the Tax Commission promised the Legislature that the rewritten income tax law would be revenue neutral - not take in any more money than the old law. But it wasn't reve-nue neutral. It took in $80 million more, embarrassing lawmakers and Bangerter and leading to the election-year tax-refund program, whose checks are now arriving at taxpayers' homes. Tew favored that new income tax law - with removing the federal deduction as a major component. "I object to a state agency strong-arming legislators for a position (on tax policy). It is an abuse of power," Carling said.
But most senators said Tew wasn't to blame for the bad tax-revenue projections and that he didn't strong-arm anyone.
In other confirmations of Bangerter nominees: Sen. Paul Rogers, R-Orem, who isn't seeking re-election this year, resigned his Senate seat Wednesday so he could be confirmed to the Board of Regents. Jacque Morgan was appointed to the regents as a student member.