Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter and Democrat Ted Wilson stopped fighting each other briefly Wednesday in the gubernatorial race to join forces and fight the proposed tax limitation initiatives.
While both candidates had previously made independent statements against the initiatives, they held a joint press conference for the first time Wednesday to oppose the proposals together."Vote for the initiatives if you want to gut the future of this state," Wilson said. Bangerter added, "Clearly, the initiatives go too far."
The third candidate in the gubernatorial race, independent Merrill Cook, supports tax limitation and predicts that prosperity will follow tax cuts. But Bangerter and Wilson predicted severe service cuts instead - and gave examples of what they foresee in education, public safety and highway programs.
For example in education, Bangerter and Wilson said estimates from state officials predict:
- One of every seven teachers in the state would be laid off.
- Class sizes would increase an average of three to six children.
- Many schools would be forced to close.
- Fees would be charged for sports, busing and activities.
- Funding would be reduced for handicapped and special education.
Of note, Cook and other tax initiative supporters have claimed funding cuts could be handled entirely by cutting school administration, and not cutting classroom services. Wilson and Bangerter disagreed.
Bangerter said, for example, that initiative supporters claim $40 million could be saved by consolidating school districts in Salt Lake County. But he said studies show that if the state's 40 districts were consolidated into 29 (one per county), only about $750,000 would be saved.
Wilson added, "The idea that there's a great pot of money of goldbrick in the state is just an illusion. . . . These (impacts) are realistic expectations, they are not scare tactics."
In the area of public safety, Bangerter and Wilson predicted the initiatives would:
- Force the termination of 50 Utah Highway Patrol troopers.
- Force the Salt Lake County sheriff to lay off 80 deputies.
- Create increased pressure to close fire stations and reduce funding for paramedics.
Wilson said such cuts would hamper programs to confiscate drugs. Bangerter said public safety programs would be especially hurt by any cuts because 80 percent of their budgets are for personnel, leaving little choice but to cut people.
Regarding the highway system, Wilson and Bangerter said the initiatives would:
- Delay or defer 20 of 43 state road construction projects.
- Force a 17 percent reduction in county and city road budgets.
- Force a loss of 2,000 road construction jobs.
Wilson said it would block progress to ease rush hour congestion. Bangerter warned cutting local funds might endanger matching federal road funds.
Both candidates said the initiative movement has sent a clear message to government that it must hold down costs. "Don't vote for the initiatives just to send a message. Believe me, the message has already been received," Wilson said.