Legislative intrigue reached new heights Thursday and Friday as tax policy bubbled to the surface and simmered behind the scenes while one House member even changed political parties.
Just as the session _ called one of the most boring in recent memory _ slid into its last weekend, things heated up. Here's what's happening:
-Republican leaders in the House and Senate are jockeying for their tax positions behind the scenes, using various rules and/or tactics to force the others' hands.
_Rep. Hugh Rush, until Thursday a Democrat from West Valley City, is moving his desk across the aisle and joining the Republican Party, saying he's tired of "games" being played by House Democrats. Rush went to the GOP's Lincoln Day dinner Thursday night. It's assumed he won't be attending the Democratic lawmakers' fund-raising party Friday. Rush's defection doesn't change the balance of power much in the 75-member House. Republicans have a solid majority, but not a veto-proof, two-thirds majority, with or without Rush (see A5).
_Gov. Norm Bangerter is plotting a new push for his property tax freeze, suffering a minor and momentary setback Thursday evening when an attempt to introduce his bill failed to get the two-thirds majority needed in the House this late in the session.
But the governor's forces quickly regrouped. The bill will be reintroduced in a manner that maneuvers the rules to get around the two-thirds vote, perhaps Friday afternoon. The two-thirds attempt failed 39-26. It takes 50 votes to get a two-thirds majority, but only 38 for a simple majority. So if Bangerter can get around the two-thirds provision, his property tax freeze already has enough votes to pass.
The bill will either be reintroduced by House Assistant Majority Whip Byron Harwood, R-Provo, the original sponsor, or by House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy. "I already have a bill introduced that's almost the same as the governor's. I'll be a good Republican and amend my bill to be his, if that's what he wants," said Moody.
"The governor wants his bill introduced and debated," said Francine Giani, his press secretary. "It will be heard."
While Rush was changing seats and Bangerter, Moody and Harwood were finding a way around the two-thirds majority problem, one of the largest issues yet to be played out _ the governor's $19 million tax reduction _ was moved to the front burner Friday. House Republicans favor a quarter- or eighth-cent sales tax reduction.
After a morning caucus, senators barely defeated a bill that would have restored more of the deduction for federal taxes on state returns. The bill would have cut taxes by about $20 million, but it was defeated 14-15.
However, at least two Republicans who voted no said if this is the only tax-cutting option they have, they may change their minds. A number of the Republicans wanted to put the $19 million into paying off state bonding debt and if the House won't allow that then they may well vote for the bill later.
House Democrats began a filibuster Friday opposing a cut in the sales tax. They threatened to filibuster any attempts to cut the income tax, especially restoration of a federal tax deduction that helps the more well-to-do, an alternative that many GOP senators like. In fact, it was that threatened filibuster, Rush said, that pushed him across the aisle into Republican ranks.
Democrats are deeply divided over the issue of cutting taxes, especially when education needs are so great. Most Democrats support the idea of putting the $19 million surplus into the School Trust Fund, where it would earn about $2 million a year in interest for public schools.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy, doesn't want to pass his caucus' preferred sales tax cut until the Senate does something with taxes. "We want to force them to make a decision," said Karras.
But Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said his GOP caucus is struggling with the tax-cutting issues and hasn't been able to reach a firm decision.
Bangerter sits not-so-contentedly in his office a floor below the Legislature and firmly repeats his desires: "I recommend my $19 million tax reduction. We have the money for it and the people deserve it. I recommend my property tax freeze." He won't back down from either.