The governor's race is getting exciting - sometimes, even funny.

Before a group of businessmen on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter, Democrat Ted Wilson and independent Merrill Cook knocked each other around and cracked a few jokes.The Salt Lake Rotary Club is definitely a conservative group, and Bangerter got the best reception. But Wilson and Cook held their own.

When one person asked, "Why doesn't Merrill Cook drop out of the race and let Bangerter beat Wilson?" it brought some cheers from the crowd.

Said Cook: "I'm glad to see so much enthusiasm for Ted to lose. The fact is, the governor has spent a lot of money telling you that a vote for Cook is a vote for Wilson. Not true. Polls show that I take two Wilson votes for every Bangerter vote. And the truth is I'm the only candidate who can beat Wilson."

Responded Bangerter: "Merrill hasn't been reasonable in this race so far, and he won't be reasonable now. This is not a race where Merrill Cook's candidacy is the issue. It is a tax issue. He has just tied himself onto it."

Said Wilson: "Have you ever asked yourself why a Democrat is leading in the governor's race in this state? It is an interesting question. If I were a Republican, this race would have been over a year ago. You know why I'm ahead. You know I did a good job in Salt Lake City (as mayor). You know I serve in the tradition of Scott Matheson and Cal Rampton. You know we didn't know what we had (with those two governors) until we lost it."

On taxation and economic development matters:

Bangerter: "Ted Wilson promises not to raise taxes for four years. If he keeps it, it will be the first such promise he's kept. He raised taxes steadily as mayor. Ted wants to borrow more than $150 million (through bonding). Don't kid yourselves. That's a tax increase waiting to happen. He says he created 40,000 jobs in Salt Lake City. The number is really 26,000, a third of the jobs created during the same time in other parts of the (Salt Lake) valley. He says he got the city going. Walk down Third South (where there are a number of empty store fronts) and write me a letter about it. I don't see any success (there)."

Wilson: "I'm the middle ground. I don't want to take you to the Mount Everest of tax hikes, nor the Death Valley of tax cutting (the initiatives that Cook supports). Between 50,000 and 35,000 people have left Utah because they can't find a good job, and Norm takes credit for low unemployment."

Cook: "Both these guys take credit for creating jobs. They didn't create any jobs _ private business did, you did. We've spent $19 million on economic development at the state level, and it's gone down the drain. We created 8,000 jobs last year at an average pay of $5 an hour. Arizona created 60,000 jobs with an average pay of $12 an hour. We have to quit thinking that sending out some ski brochures will do the job."

On reducing state budgets should the tax initiatives pass:

Cook: "We can save $40 million by consolidating four state departments. We can save $14 million by having teachers at the University of Utah increase their teaching loads. We can save $17 million by reducing duplication between the State Office of Education and school districts. And we can save $17 million by consolidating school districts."

Bangerter: "Merrill, those figures don't work. The state's whole contribution to those four departments is $53 million. You can take out $40 million and not harm services? It's hogwash. I'll tell you straight. If the initiatives pass I'd have to cut education, Social Services, health, every budget. I would give my priorities to education, however."

Wilson: "The cuts would add up to 13 percent across the board. I'd take a year, though, to study where best to make the cuts. I'd cut public schools and higher education the least. One thing that would go would be capital improvements."