Thirty-eight days into the 45-day legislative session, Republicans and Democrats are headed for a showdown - the first of the 1989 Legislature.
Democrats are promising to do everything within their minority power (translation: filibuster) to tie up a bill that would cut the sales tax by one-eighth cent, or about $25 a year per family.Democrats say they would support a one-quarter cent sales tax reduction, as the bill is currently written. A one-quarter cent reduction would reduce state coffers by $29 million next year and $35 million the year after.
However, only $19 million is available for tax cutting. Republicans say the answer is to reduce the sales tax by one-eighth cent, but Democrats call that a meaningless gesture.
"Rather than giving a meaningless tax break, let's put the $19 million into the school trust fund, which would give $2 million a year in interest to public schools," said House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price. "It's seed money for the future of education."
Dmitrich's instruction to his troops: Take up as much floor time as possible explaining the virtues of investing in the future of education, rather than making a tax-cutting gesture that won't mean much of anything to anyone's pocketbook.
"Sure it's going to make 'em (Republicans) mad, but maybe's it's the time of year to do it," he said.
"Two can play that game, you know," said Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy. "In our caucus we voted to stay here Friday night until the budget matters are decided - we have to start printing the budget bill this weekend. Don't the Democrats have a little social function they have to attend Friday night? We'll see how badly they want to dance (at their party)," he said with a smile.
The Democrats have their yearly legislative fund-raising dinner Friday, starting at 7 p.m. It's the main fund-raising event for the Democratic Party in Utah.
The 1989 Legislature has been one of the quietest sessions in memory. There have been no political floor fights in the House thus far, and both sides seem to have adopted a non-confrontational approach to legislation.
However, the issue of tax reduction has polarized Republicans within their own party, as well as Democrats and Republicans. House Republicans remain evenly split on whether to support a one-eighth cent sales tax reduction or a reduction in income taxes.
The Republican-dominated Senate prefers the income tax approach, restoring some of the tax deduction for federal income taxes. And House Republicans may be moving in the same direction.
"The votes are close for either one," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy. "There's a lot of growing support for the income tax (reduction). There may be enough votes to pass either one on the floor."
Apparently, House Republicans must find within their own ranks the 38 votes needed to pass a measure in the House. Democrats don't appear to be in a mood to help.