As the Utah Legislature winds down, things always heat up.
Now Gov. Norm Bangerter has decided to take a firm stand on freezing property tax rates.Actually, his proposal isn't a hard freeze. He suggests that local governing boards, like city councils, county commissions, school boards and special improvement districts, can raise their property tax rates by a "super majority" vote.
On a three-member county commission that would be a 3-0 vote. On a five-member council or board that would be a 4-1 vote. And on a seven-member board that would be a 5-2 vote in favor of a tax rate increase.
But the governor wants something else as well - a vote of the people.
In running for re-election last year, the governor promised he'd try to freeze property taxes. At that time, the only way he'd accept a tax increase was if the citizens approved a tax hike in a general election.
Bangerter will step back from that tough position and compromise with the "super majority" vote for the governing body. But he still wants that public vote.
Under his new plan the public vote would only be a referendum, a poll if you will, taken as part of the next general election after the "super majority" raised the tax.
The public vote wouldn't be binding. But it would send a real message to the elected council or commission if voters turned against the tax hike by 10-1 or some such landslide.
To put it mildly, it would take a pretty hard-headed public official to ignore that kind of vote, and the property tax would probably be lowered.
Cities and counties didn't want Bangerter to push for any bill this session.
In an effort to head off a bill, their association members promised they wouldn't raise property taxes this year.
During that year the matter would be studied with the understanding that if the voluntary ban were violated, the governor could call a special legislative session and freeze the tax rates.
But Bangerter decided not to bite at that bait.
First of all, such a promise, while well intended, probably wouldn't stand up. What would Bangerter do if, say, the San Juan County School Board raised property taxes a tiny bit? Would he call a special session to punish all for the school district's actions?
In all likelihood, the moratorium would be nibbled away during the year, putting Bangerter in the difficult position of calling their bluff.
Second, Bangerter talked a tough game at the first of the session, saying he'd have a tax freeze or at least a bill freezing taxes until he could get a later special session to freeze taxes.
To settle for a vague promise by local officials not to raise taxes really isn't much. Politically speaking, the governor would have gotten little and could be accused of not trying very hard.
Even if his bill fails in the House or Senate - and Senate and House leaders believes it will pass - then at least Bangerter can tell citizens: "I tried to freeze your property taxes, but your legislators listened instead to the special interest groups of the local governments and refused to do it."
Of course, there is another side. Local governments aren't the enemy. We elect them just as we elect legislators and the governor.
In fact, local officials argue, they are "closer" to the citizens since they are elected from smaller areas, know their neighbors well, etc.
The property tax is local governments' mainstay. School districts especially rely heavily on the tax. Any restrictions on that tax could harm local governments or education, officials argue.
But Bangerter has made his promise. He's going to do his best to keep that promise, his aides say.
So the great property tax freeze fight is about to begin. We'll see whether Bangerter or local government officials carry the day in the Legislature.