Merrill Cook, the tax limitation movement's gubernatorial candidate who was defeated in November along with three tax-cutting initiatives, is paying for a telephone survey of voters' attitudes toward future tax reductions.
"I offered to contribute some time and money to get a better feel for what the public really wants," Cook said. The Salt Lake businessman, who did the polling for his own campaign, wrote the questions being put to some 300 Utahns.Several of the questions will deal with the credibility of Cook and the leaders of the tax limitation movement, radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw and the organizer of the initiative petition drive, Greg Beesley.
While both Cook and the initiatives lost at the polls, he made a surprisingly strong showing for an independent candidate. The three initiatives were trounced by a wide margin.
The initiatives would have limited property tax rates and government growth, rolled back 1987 tax increases and given parents of children in private schools a tax break.
Cook has a vested interest in the results of the survey. He plans to use them to help determine how closely he will identify himself with the tax limitation movement in the future.
Although the survey is taking longer than expected and probably won't be completed until next week, Cook said early results indicate strong support for removing sales tax from food.
That idea has already been endorsed by the Tax Limitation Coalition headed by Beesley and Crenshaw. The coalition urged Cook to challenge incumbent Gov. Norm Bangerter and got the tax initiatives on the ballot.
However, the coalition plans to review the results of the survey, which will also measure interest in a variety of possible property tax reductions, before determining what issues to support in the future.
Cook said there is little hope of winning either legislative or voter approval for property tax reductions because there is the perception that such cuts would hurt education, which is funded through property taxes.
"I think the public's already answered that question," Cook said of whether another property tax reduction should be sought.
"I don't think we want to re-live Initiative A - at least this year."
Should the coalition decide to pursue a property tax reduction, Cook said he would no longer be "one of their advocates." He said no matter what the survey finds, he will push for the elimination of sales tax on food.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed interest in the idea of eliminating sales tax on food during the next legislative session that begins in January, although there is disagreement over how to do it.
Cook said he cannot support eliminating only part of the sales tax or eliminating it gradually. He said the state surplus should cover most if not all of the $60 million to $100 million now raised by sales tax on food.
Also of interest to Cook are several questions dealing with whether an independent political party should be formed in Utah. He said in his concession speech that he would consider forming a third political party in the state.
The survey asks if an alternative voice to the Republican party is needed in Utah and if that voice should be the Democratic party or a new third party that Cook has already begun calling Independent.
The coalition and Cook are both intent on finding out how much effort Utahns are willing to exert to see their goals accomplished. "I don't want to be a one-man campaign," Cook said.
Some of the questions that Cren-shaw had said he thought would be on the survey, such as whether voters should decide whether to bond for a new Salt Lake County jail, aren't being asked, Cook said.
Cook said their may have been some confusion over what Crenshaw had proposed asking and what Cook himself decided to include in the survey. Among Cook's selections were questions about a state lottery and county control over how alcoholic beverages are served.