The filing of initiative petitions to remove the sales tax from food and raise the minimum wage has been postponed for at least a week to give backers an opportunity to rally additional support and soothe critics.
What has been dubbed an "unholy alliance" between state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi, Utah AFL-CIO President Ed Mayne and tax-limitation leader Merrill Cook is infuriating Utahns on both ends of the political spectrum."To me, this isn't slowing anything down. This is just getting the track a little better greased," Cook said, stressing that members of the alliance are still "solidly behind" the initiatives.
They had hoped to file the two initiative petitions with the lieutenant governor's office this week. The petitions must be reviewed by the attorney general's office before they can be circulated for signatures.
Cook is confident the two measures will be submitted in time to pass inspection before a planned April 15 rally in Ogden. The rally will kick off the drive for the nearly 65,000 signatures needed to qualify the issues for the November 1990 ballot.
Horiuchi, who is nearing the end of his second term as state chairman, has been publicly criticized by Democratic leaders for aligning himself with the same organization behind last year's unsuccessful tax-cutting initiatives.
Democrats and Republicans both opposed the tax initiatives, which were sponsored by the organization Cook serves as spokesman for, the Tax Limitation Coalition. Cook frustrated both parties in the last election by running for governor as an independent candidate.
Cook and others in the tax-limitation movement aren't immune from complaints. Some of the state's most ardent conservatives were behind the move to limit property taxes and roll back recent tax increases. They are none too happy being associated with two of the state's leading liberal groups.
Efforts to remove the sales tax from food and raise the minimum wage received little attention from the Republican-dominated Legislature last session, which also took no action on cutting taxes despite a state surplus.
Both initiatives deal with traditional Democratic concerns, according to Horiuchi. "I know the alliance seems unholy, but anytime we have the chance to advance Democratic issues, we need to take it," he said.
There are still questions to be resolved about the wording of the initiative to remove sales tax from food. Horiuchi said he now agrees that the tax should be removed all at once instead of over a two-year period.
But rather than have the sales tax taken off food as of Jan. 1, 1991, as Cook has proposed, the Democratic leader wants the effective date moved to Jan. 1, 1992.
He also wants local governments to get a bigger share of the sales tax that will continue to be collected by the state on other purchases, to make up for the money they would lose on food purchases.
Local governments now get about 1 cent of the sales tax collected by the state, which is 61/4 cents along most of the Wasatch Front. Increasing the local government's share would shift between $10 million and $15 million from state to local coffers, Horiuchi said.
The total cost of removing the sales tax from food is estimated at between $60 million and $100 million. Opponents have said it would be impossible to absorb the loss and another type of tax would have to be raised.
The proposal to raise the state's minimum wage from $2.50 to the $3.35 required by the federal government has yet to receive much attention. The state minimum wage applies only to small businesses not engaged in interstate commerce.