Penguins have this peculiar habit of running en masse to the edge of an iceberg and pushing each other closer and closer to the edge until some unlucky fowl gets shoved into the sea.
The point is no one wants to be the first to confront the predator that may be lurking just beneath the surface. And after one week of the 1989 Legislature, lawmakers are behaving a lot like penguins on the edge of an iceberg - afraid to jump in and get anything done or at least anything significant.For example, lawmakers have debated such weighty items as license plates for Pearl Harbor veterans, citizenship day, recycled paper and a statue for Capitol Hill.
But it's not like there's a stack of bills waiting in the wings. Most committees have only a handful of bills to even consider, and as many as half the scheduled committee meetings have been canceled or cut short because there are few, if any, bills to consider.
"It's not necessarily bad that we don't have a lot of bills to talk about," said House Majority Whip David Adams, R-Monticello. After all, it's better that lawmakers focus their energies on the more important issues that aren't ready to be debated.
More than a dozen bills to alter, reform, reduce or eliminate certain taxes have been introduced, but lawmakers have yet to take the plunge and determine how to deal with an estimated $19 million to $39 million of the state's budget surplus. Gov. Norm Bangerter and many lawmakers would like to return the cash to taxpayers through tax reductions.
A debate on removing the sales tax from food may come as soon as next week, though Republican leaders say it is doubtful the majority party will support such a measure.
Democrats, many of whom support the idea, are counting on defections from the Republican camp, like Rep. Pat Nix, R-Orem, who has sponsored her own bill to remove the sales tax from food. It would take a united Democratic alliance with at least 10 Republicans to push the bill through the House.
Republican leaders in a Friday press conference said the GOP is leaning more and more toward reducing the property tax but have not yet decided how.
Majority Leader H. Craig Moody, R-Sandy, has a bill that would reduce property tax rates by two mills, about $25 annually on a $60,000 home. Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, has another measure that would decrease the percentage of a home that is subject to property tax from the current level of 25 percent to the constitutional limit of 45 percent.
Other options, such as reducing the sales tax by one-quarter percent and increasing the state income tax deduction for federal income taxes paid appear out of favor. Republican leaders said their Senate counterparts are worried that if the deduction is restored, lawmakers will be perceived as looking out for the rich.
Democrats are considering at least four options for spending the surplus, House Minority Whip Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, said at the Democrats' press conference Friday.
Three of the options would share the surplus with taxpayers through a tax cuts. For example, Rep. Ted Lewis, D-Salt Lake, would allow taxpayers to credit some of the sales taxes they pay on food against their state income taxes.
Democrats support so-called circuit breaker programs that give tax breaks to the poor and are leaning favorably toward limiting property tax rates.
A fourth option would not put any of the surplus directly in the pockets of taxpayers. Rep. Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden, has suggested using the money to create an Economic Development Trust Fund that would be administered by a new state department. The fund would be used to attract new businesses to communities outside the Wasatch Front.