The $19 million tax cut proposed by Gov. Norm Bangerter is "just a drop in the bucket" that won't satisfy legislators who know how much additional money the state will have to spend next year, a leader of the Tax Limitation Coalition said.
Greg Beesley said at a press conference Thursday that asking lawmakers to remove the sales tax from food is both "reasonable and justified," given the possibility of another state surplus.The state had a $110 million surplus for the budget year that ended July 1. Most of that money was distributed among taxpayers in the form of an income tax rebate and income tax rates were lowered 11.5 percent.
Beesley predicted the state will take as much as $140 million more at current rates than was spent this year because of continued economic growth. The Legislative Fiscal Analyst's office estimates the growth in revenue at $106 million.
Advisers to Gov. Norm Bangerter place the figure at about $84 million. Bangerter said for the first time Thursday that he opposes any attempt to remove all the state sales tax from food this year. (See story page B7).
Beesley said lawmakers "have got to do something to indicate their good will" toward the tens of thousands of Utahns who supported the tax initiatives by circulating petitions to get them on the ballot and by voting for them.
So far, no bills have been pre-filed with the Legislature that would satisfy the coalition's request. One pre-filed bill would phase out the sales tax on food over a three-year period and another would raise the sales taxes charged on non-food purchases to equal the amount of revenue lost.
The group is turning to Democratic lawmakers for help, Beesley said. He said the coalition is also looking for a new spokesman, now that radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw has left the group.
"I think I would get a negative reaction," Beesley said. He said he was not troubled by his low name recognition in a telephone survey done by Merrill Cook, who unsuccessfully ran for governor at the coalition's urging.
Coalition leaders alienated many Republicans through their unsuccessful efforts to elect Cook, who ran as an independent candidate, and through their effort to win passage of their three tax initiatives.
When asked, Beesley said the new spokesman could be Cook, depending in part on how much time the Salt Lake businessman was willing to give to the coalition.
Cook, who sat beside Beesley at the press conference, did not respond to the question. He emphasized later that he was not a member of the coalition's board of directors and was acting as their adviser.
What the Legislature does with the coalition's request will likely determine whether another initiative petition drive is launched, Beesley said. "I'm tired but it's still a possibility," he said.
Cook said lawmakers' actions could also decide the fate of the new, independent political party he believes is needed in Utah to counter the two established parties.
His survey showed support among the 360 Utahns polled for both the removal of sales tax on food and the organization of a new political party. He said it was a random sample that has an error factor of plus or minus 5 or 6 percent.
The coalition itself is not in as good condition as the state appears to be. Beesley said the group is $2,500 in debt. "We're in bad shape financially," he said.