It's political hocus pocus: Now you see a tax cut, now you don't.
The Senate, which earlier this session passed a bill cutting the income tax, Friday voted down the same measure. And House Democrats, who filibustered long and hard against a cut in the sales tax, turned around and voted for the measure.All of which left more than a few lawmakers scratching their heads and wondering just what in the Sam-Capitol-Hill is going on.
Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter isn't confused. As a former House speaker, Bangerter said Friday he knows from experience that decisions - including tax-cutting measures - will be made as the Legislature rushes to a close at midnight Wednesday.
Early next week, maybe Monday, Bangerter promised to make known which tax cut he wants - sales tax, income tax deductions or even property tax. While he continues to recommend a $19 million tax decrease to legislators, the governor so far hasn't backed any specific proposal.
House Democrats filibustered almost three hours Friday, opposing a bill that would cut the sales tax rate by one-fourth cent on the dollar. They argued that the $19 million available for tax cuts could better be "invested" in the state's School Trust Fund, where it would generate about $2 million a year in interest for public schools.
But when it came time to vote, many of those Democrats - including House Minority Leader Mike Dmi-trich, D-Price - sided with Republicans to pass the measure by a 53-21 count.
Meanwhile, senators killed an income tax cut by a 14-15 vote. But sponsor Sen. K.S. Cornaby, R-Salt Lake, said later Friday that he's persuaded "some wayward Republicans" to join him. He'll bring SB102 back Monday morning and pass it over to the House, he said.
Cornaby's bill would increase the deduction for federal income tax paid on state returns from one-third to one-half. That equates to a $19 million to $20 million reduction in state revenues.
House Republicans, with four exceptions, voted in favor of the HB36, a sales tax reduction that supporters say will "keep faith with the people of Utah."
The real courage is not raising the sales tax in times of need, said Rep. Frank Knowlton, R-Layton. Courage is lowering it when times are good.
Before voting for the bill, Dmitrich led off the attack against the tax-cutting plan, calling it shortsighted and premature.
"People are in favor of tax reduction but not at the expense of public education," Dmitrich said. "If we put that money in a trust fund, we are ensuring public education benefits for the future."
Other Democrats followed Dmitrich's lead, calling the bill a "waste of money," and accusing Republicans of "compromising education" and "placating a minority" i.e., tax protesters.
Democrats argued it would be better to spend the money on things like textbooks, school programs and removal of cancer-causing asbestos from public schools.
"Twenty-five years from now when some kid has cancer from the asbestos, he will be happy to know he got 25 cents back on the hundred dollars he spent," said Rep. Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden.
The filibuster drew an angry response from House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, who retorted there will "never be a good time for Democrats to cut taxes."
Senate Democrats hated Cor-naby's income tax bill even more than House Democrats bad-mouthed the sales tax cut. On the Senate side only one Democrat, Sen. Winn Richards, D-Ogden, voted with the Republicans.
Increasing the deduction gives a proportionately greater benefit to those who pay more federal income tax. (See chart.) So those who make more money get a bigger tax break than low-income Utahns.
"Many of us here believe it's fair for everyone to pay the same, 10 percent, a tithe," said Sen. Karl Swan, D-Tooele, referring to contributions to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by faithful members. "But this bill is just the opposite. It is a regressive tax."
"This body has protected rich people in the past, and this is what you're doing again," said Sen. Omar Bunnell, D-Price.
Festival of cliches
Filibusters can lend themselves to great oratory. But in Friday's debate over whether to cut the sales tax, oratory was transformed into a festival of cliches.
While Rep. Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden, was feeding at the public trough, Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, was busy pulling himself up by his bootstraps.
Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden, meanwhile, was looking to see if the shoe fit. Rep. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley, had no time to think about fitting the shoes; he was too busy jumping the gun.
Rep. David Ostler, R-Salt Lake, meanwhile was rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, while it seemed everyone was selling out.
But the best of the bunch may have been a new one coined by Atkinson: "You take a little bit of crap and turn it into something beautiful." No doubt a poor variation of "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."