Gov. Norm Bangerter announced his own tax-limitation plan Tuesday, one that would freeze property taxes, limit state government growth and require a vote of the people before property taxes could be raised.
The governor, trailing in the polls to Democrat Ted Wilson, said he decided to announce his tax-limitation proposals now "because now is the time I was able to come to a conclusion in my mind what I could support."Reaction to the plan was swift. "I don't know if you can believe him," said Randy Horiuchi, Democratic state chairman and adviser to Wilson's campaign.
"First he gave us the highest tax hike in the history of the world, now he wants to limit taxes. What next?" Horiuchi said.
Bangerter said his proposals (see shadow box on this page) won't be dealt with in a special legislative session this year, but in the 1989 general session that convenes in January.
The plan, Bangerter said, is "a realistic and reasonable alternative to tax limitation. My plan will protect Utah taxpayers while also ensuring that vital public services are maintained. It will put in place responsible limits - limits that will not throw the baby out with the bath water."
The governor admitted that his proposal has its greatest financial burden on local governments and school districts, since the state itself doesn't use property tax revenues, and he and all other gubernatorial candidates have promised to not raise state taxes for the next four years.
"We will work closely, very closely, with local officials, bond counsel and legal counsel in putting this together," Bangerter said. "How we split up the property tax, how much a city gets, how much a county gets, how much a school district gets must be worked out."
Government officials in cities and counties are not expected to be enthusiastic about the plan because they depend heavily on property taxes.
Brent Gardner, director of the Utah Association of Counties, said he hopes the state will provide some other way for counties to raise money. (In answer to a question, Bangerter said he can't guarantee such alternative sources.) Counties have been fighting unsuccessfully for the right to tax local utility bills, as cities do.
"It's a little bit strange for the state to be proposing a freeze on a source of revenue it doesn't even use," Gardner said, referring to property taxes.
County officials continually complain that state government requires them to provide programs such as jails and services for the mentally ill without giving them adequate money to run those programs.
"Very little of his plan is new," countered Horiuchi. The state already has a law limiting government growth, but it has never been implemented. One of the tax initiatives itself has similar tax-limitation restrictions. And Bangerter said that under his administration state spending has stayed under those limits.
"And it comes, clearly, for political reasons," Horiuchi said.
Bangerter is sensitive to those charges. He said he waited to bring forth his plan not because of politics, but because he hadn't decided in his own mind what should be done. He hopes that some voters who favor the initiatives will see his alternative as viable, vote against the initiatives and vote for him. Asked why they should vote for him considering it was Bangerter who suggested a $230 million tax increase two years ago, Bangerter said his tax increase proposal didn't mean more state spending, just keeping programs going.
"But they (the voters) will have to answer taht question (why switch to Bangerter) themselves," he said.
He added that he went forward with his tax hike knowing the people weren't at that time in favor of it. Requiring voter approval for any future property tax hike means politicians won't go it alone again," the governor said.