For the past two years, taxes have dominated center stage at the Legislature.And when the gavel closes the 1989 session, taxation should once again hold the spotlight.
"The biggest fight I see will be tax reform," said House Majority Leader-elect Craig Moody, R-Sandy. "The governor and Republicans are looking toward property tax reform, and the Democrats are looking to back sales tax reform."And both sides admit it's one or the other. There's just not enough revenues, even with an $80 million projected revenue surplus, to do both.
Either way, Moody says, the buzz words during the 1989 Legislature will be "efficiency and accountability." Voters demanded it and lawmakers are certain to squeeze more out of each tax dollar as a result.
"You will see a much more conservative Legislature," Moody predicted.
House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, doesn't anticipate a tax increase "for a long, long time to come," but added the Legislature should settle down to the business of making taxes more equitable.
"If we're over-collecting on sales taxes, we ought to either roll it back (to 1987 levels) or we should drop the sales tax on food," he said. "This is the year to do it."
Dmitrich admits the state probably can't afford the $100 million price tag for an immediate removal of the sales tax on food. But a $50 million phase out is a good starting point.
The removal of the sales tax on food will be one of the key issues pushed by the Democrats, who are in 28-47 minority in the House and a 7-22 minority in theSenate.
Other issues to be addressed by the 1989 Legislature will be higher educationand AIDS. And both Moody and Dmitrich said it is time to address public employeeand teacher salaries - something that has taken a back seat in recent sessions.
Though the Legislature doesn't convene for another month, political battle lines between House Republicans and Democrats are being drawn. Both sides express optimism that they can work together - something they have done for years. But aRepublican-sponsored parliamentary rule change in the works for 1989 could upsetthe traditional feeling of good will.
Historically, the House has operated on the rule that it requires a two-thirds vote to close debate. But next year, Republicans, who have not had a two-thirds majority in the House since 1986, plan to change the rule so that a simple majority vote can put an end to floor debates.
The American political system was built upon the minority having a say in policy decisions, said Dmitrich.
"Our tool to do that is the filibuster," he said. "We have not abused that and it's helped create better legislation. If they pass that rule, the message we get as Democrats is that we are a one-party state and Republicans will run ittheir way and they don't care about our input."
And it's not in the best interests of the state to have legislation "rammed down the minority party's throat," Dmitrich said, hoping the Republicans will "have compassion" for Democrats.
Moody believes the two parties can still work together and said the minority party will always be allowed its say. "But we don't want to spend hours on the floor in filibuster."