Gov. Norm Bangerter wants to give Utahns a $19 million tax decrease next year.

It's a promise he made just before the election, when, as part of his six-point tax plan, the governor said he'd work to keep taxes stable and reduce them if he could.A $19 million reduction isn't much considering the whole state budget is almost $3 billion.

But, as they say, it's the thought that counts.

Last summer, facing an unexpected $110 million surplus, Bangerter and lawmakers gave an $80 million reduction in income taxes via a check to taxpayers.

Those checks averaged a little over $100 each. So a corresponding $19 million reduction would equate to $25 or so.

Bangerter doesn't propose giving the $19 million back in a check. Rather, he wants lawmakers just to reduce a tax rate.

He'll participate in legislative discussions over which tax would best be cut and make a recommendation during the 45-day session which starts Jan. 9.

State Budget Director Dale Hatch says a $19 million cut equates to a 2.5 percent reduction in income tax rates, or a 2-mill reduction in the state-mandated property tax for schools, or increasing the deduction for federal taxes on state returns from one-third to one-half, or 1/8 percent reduction in the state sales tax.

The governor has several reasons for suggesting a tax cut this year, even if it is only $25 a person.

First, he really believes that state government must be frugal.

And 1989-90 is the first year that he's had enough natural growth in revenues to play around a bit with the budget, give some pay raises, and fund growth in education and welfare rolls.

At the same time, he wants to help out taxpayers,. And not appear to spend all the new money the state will be getting.

Second, Bangerter nearly lost the election because of the tax protest movement. Certainly, tax protest leaders have been a thorn in his side ever since he suggested a $220 million tax hike in 1987, a year when state revenues fell off badly due to a poor economy.

Giving a tax cut next year may well be the death knell to any renewed effort by tax protesters. Bangerter would love to see those people go away.

Even though their three tax-cutting initiatives were soundly defeated at the polls Nov. 8, the tax limitation leaders are marshalling their forces for another tax petition drive.

Finally, Bangerter got only 40 percent of the vote in the three-way governor's race - enough to win, certainly - but not enough to claim any kind of mandate to lead.

No doubt he wants the 60 percent of the voters who didn't want him as governor to feel better about him. That's not just ego. It's practical politics as well.

A good way to get people feeling better about you is to give them a tax break, even if it's only a little one.

The governor took a great deal of criticism over the $220 million tax hike suggestion. When Republican and Democratic lawmakers approved a $165 million tax hike, it became the Bangerter tax increase - the largest in the state's history.

The $80 million tax rebate and accompanying 11.5 percent reduction in the income tax rates, the largest tax cut in the state's history, were overshadowed by election-year politics, coming as they did in the middle of the campaign.

Now he'd like the $19 million tax cut to become known as the Bangerter tax decrease, to keep a promise and, hopefully, start a healing process that will get his second term as governor off on a positive note.