A bill to remove sales tax from food, sought by the Tax Limitation Coalition, has been pre-filed by a Democratic representative at the same time coalition members are being encouraged to join the Democratic Party.

The encouragement is coming from state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi, after he talked to coalition leaders anxious for help with the 1989 Legislature.The coalition, the group behind the failed tax initiatives, set its sights on removing the sales tax from food after the November election. Rep. Blaze Wharton, D-Salt Lake, requested that the bill be drafted later that month.

Wharton, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, downplayed any association with the coalition and said he had introduced similar bills in past sessions.

Unlike other pre-filed bills dealing with taking the sales tax off food, Wharton's proposal would simply stop grocers and other retailers from charging it starting July 1, 1989.

That's just what the leaders of the coalition want. Both they, and Wharton, believe the recent state surplus as well as continued economic growth will make it possible to absorb the $60 million to $100 million in sales tax that would be lost.

Other proposed bills would attempt to recover those millions of dollars by removing the sales tax from food in increments over a three- or four-year period to ease the impact.

Horiuchi readily acknowledges his efforts to bolster the ranks of the state's minority party and help make it more palatable to voters by bringing in coalition members.

"The Democratic Party can make a major change in its image, becoming the party that's responsive to working folks," Horiuchi said, and make the Republican Party appear to serve only the interests of big business and the wealthy.

He said the movement's anti-tax sentiment would help counter the label given to Democrats as "liberal, big spenders." He said there would have to be some reconciliation with the public employees groups, however.

Teachers and public employees, who traditionally depend on Democrats to support funding for pay increases and other needs, were repeatedly criticized by the coalition for their opposition to the tax initiatives.

The other benefit of bringing the thousands of Utahns who voted for the tax initiatives into the party is that Democrats can prevent a repeat of last year's gubernatorial race.

Democrat Ted Wilson narrowly lost to Gov. Norm Bangerter, a Republican who had trailed at the polls throughout the campaign. Horiuchi and others blame independent candidate Merrill Cook.

Polls show that Cook, who ran on a platform supporting the tax initiatives, took votes away from Wilson, who denounced the initiatives. It had been initially assumed that Bangerter would be most hurt by Cook's candidacy.

Cook, who is now serving as an adviser to the Tax Limitation Coalition and helped shape the group's legislative agenda, has talked of forming a third party that would be known as Independent.

While Horiuchi fears that a third party could swing more voters away from the Democrats, former Democratic party chairman Pat Shea said the effect could be just the opposite.

Shea said that a third political party made up of tax limitation supporters could help Democrats appear moderate - making them the logical choice between the extremes of the Independent and Republican parties.