To the editor:
I am being charitable by giving the grade of C minus to the efforts of the Utah Legislature with respect to their just-completed session.Given Utah's less-than-stellar economic performance over the past three or four years, given strong educational reform movements stressing student achievement going on all over the country but showing very little movement in this state, given tax burdens which continue to rank among the nation's highest, and given the fact confirmed by several independent pollsters that, in spite of the rejection of last year's tax initiatives, a strong majority of Utahns still favor lower taxes, and a strong plurality favor eliminating the sales tax on food, Utahns have just witnessed a classic do-nothing Legislature.
The legislative session started with a projection of an $84 million revenue surplus. The governor's legislative proposal which included virtually no governmental restructuring, no initiatives with respect to a focus on student achievement and classroom reform, and a paltry $19 million tax cut set the tone.
About the only economic development initiative endorsed by the governor and supported by the legislature was a give-away program to wealthy ski resort owners who have been heavy campaign contributors. No new initiatives on state industrialization were even considered.
The idea that tax cuts could help stimulate Utah's lagging economy by getting money back into private hands was nowhere to be found, in spite of revenue surplus figures that two weeks ago came in over $25 million more than the $84 million projected at the start of the session. The bottom line was that over $130 million more was appropriated for the state operating budget in the 1989-90 fiscal year than was in the base budget the current fiscal year.
When you consider that $19 million was left in the state's budget reserve on top of this, it becomes readily apparent that the state could have cut close to $150 million in taxes without cutting a single expenditure or program from last year's budget! Just look how different the reality is from the rhetoric of those last year claiming the tax initiatives would devastate Utah's public services.
I think it was a good idea to give some wage and salary increases to state employees and teachers, but equity would have indicated a return to the people through tax reform of some of the tax money as well. It is now clear that the removal of the sales tax on food costing the state between $60 and $80 million could have been achieved.
To give deserved raises to public employees and teachers on top of a major tax cut would have required governmental restructuring, but there is now absolutely no doubt that a significant tax cut could have taken place without hurting education or any other vital services. It was very interesting to hear Rep. Craig Moody and Sen. Lyle Hillyard say, "We've done a very good job with our commitment to education and public employees. They've been treated more fairly than any time before."
That is probably true, but, as far as I am concerned, state taxpayers have never been treated more unfairly, given the enormous revenue surpluses.
The Legislature made a big mistake by not responding to the people's desire for lower taxes. The governor made a big mistake by expressing a desire for a $19 million tax cut, microscopic as it was, without being willing to pull any of the strings necessary to make it happen as he did with his lobby effort on behalf of his friends in the ski industry.
And, of course, I don't want to rub in any more salt, so I won't mention the governor's 17 percent salary hike passed by this Legislature.
Salt Lake City