The Tax Limitation Coalition will ask the Legislature to remove the sales tax on food, based on the results of a statewide survey that shows Utahns prefer tax cuts at the grocery store over reductions in property and income taxes.

After watching its three tax-cutting initiatives fail at the polls in November, the group was scheduled on Thursday afternoon to release its legislative agenda and the results of a poll taken by Merrill Cook.Cook, who was defeated in his run for governor as an independent candidate, has supported taking sales tax off food over other proposals from coalition leaders, including a plan to cut property taxes similar to one of the failed initiatives.

He conducted the poll of 360 registered voters throughout the state to see if voters agreed with him on where taxes should be cut and on the need to organize a third party to challenge Republicans and Democrats.

The results, Cook said Thursday morning, indicate that the future of the tax limitation movement is its transformation into a new political party that embraces more than just the state's so-called "tax protesters."

Respondents clearly agreed that cutting sales tax from food was the best way to reduce taxes by a proposed $75 million. Forty-six percent said that's what they wanted, compared to 33 percent who favored the reduction in property taxes and 18 percent who preferred it come from income taxes.

The survey went on to ask respondents whether they had heard of the Tax Limitation Coalition, which was formed as a result of tax protests held at the Capitol in 1987.

Only 8 percent of the Utahns questioned said they had never heard of the coalition. But 28 percent said they had no opinion of the group, 29 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion and 35 percent held a favorable opinion.

Asked if they would vote for a Tax Limitation Coalition candidate, 43 percent of those surveyed said they would, 36 percent said they wouldn't and 21 percent were undecided.

But more than half of the respondents said they wouldn't join the coalition, or get actively involved in either the coalition itself or in the campaigns of its candidates.

That compared to 61 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote for an Independent Party candidate, 23 percent saying they wouldn't and 16 percent saying they weren't sure.

Again, well over half of the Utahns questioned were not interested in either joining or working for the new third party still being considered by Cook and others in the tax limitation movement.

To test the viability of an Independent Party candidate against the two established parties, the survey matched up Cook with Rep. Nolan Karras, R-Roy, and developer Kem Gardner, a Democratic who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1984. Cook won with 31 percent of those questioned. Karras, who will become Speaker of the House in January, came in second with 18 percent and Gardner was third with 13 percent. Thirty-eight percent were undecided.

The survey also asked what the results would be in a hypothetical race pitting Cook on the Republican ticket against Gardner, the Democrat. In this scenario, Cook won with 48 percent compared to 20 percent for Gardner and 32 percent undecided.

Greg Beesley, a building contractor whose full-time job has been chairing the coalition, was also pitted against Salt Lake County Commissioner Bart Barker, a Republican, and Jim Bradley, a Democrat who was defeated for a commission seat in November.

Beesley finished last with 11 percent in the race for Barker's seat, followed by Barker with 27 percent and Bradley with 15 percent. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said they didn't know who they would vote for.

The approval ratings for the major figures in the tax limitation movement showed a surprising number of respondents had never heard of radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw or Beesley.

Nine percent of the respondents gave Crenshaw an unfavorable rating, 28 percent had no opinion and 47 percent said they had never heard of the man who was the coalition's most visible spokesman.

Crenshaw, who has now cut his ties to the group in the wake of requests that he restrict his comments on his radio call-in show so that the coalition can speak "with one voice," had a 16 percent approval rating.

Beesley fared worse. Seventy 70 percent of the Utahns surveyed said they didn't know who he was, 8 percent said they held a favorable of him, 5 percent gave him an unfavorable rating and 17 percent had no opinion.

Only 2 percent of Utahns questioned said they had never heard of Cook, who came in third place in the governor's race against Republican Norm Bangerter and Democrat Ted Wilson.

Cook received a 46 percent approval rating, with 32 percent of those surveyed saying they had an unfavorable opinion. Twenty percent had no opinion at all.

The coalition has approved four resolutions that it will present to the 1989 Legislature. Besides supporting the sales tax on food, the group also endorses Bangerter's six-point tax reduction plan that includes a freeze on property tax rates.

Money for the 3 percent pay increase for public employees proposed by the governor is justified, the coalition said, but should be funded through reductions in government agencies.

The coalition opposes a local-option income tax for school districts that has been proposed by Karras.