The fragile coalition between tax-limitation proponents and Democrats may be coming apart even before it has really begun.
Tax-limitation leader Merrill Cook confirmed Monday that two "suggestions" made by Democratic State Chairman Randy Horiuchi can't be met in his group's attempt to remove the sales tax from food.Also, over the weekend the Weber County chapter of the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition voted not to support raising the state's minimum wage, and most of that opposition, Cook said, comes from tax protesters who don't want to tie themselves to the Democratic Party.
The problems are just the latest concerns in the coalition that have met opposition both from traditional Democrats who don't want to be aligned with the conservative tax protesters and from tax protesters who feel the same about the Democrats.
Tax protesters and Democratic leaders would normally mix like oil and water. But they got together after Cook said Utah's problems stem from too high taxes and too low wages. Democrats in the Legislature have long fought unsuccessfully for removal of the sales tax on food and a higher state minimum wage.
Horiuchi, who has met some severe criticism from party members for suggesting the coalition, said Monday that he's considering taking a straw poll at his party's off-year convention this June. The poll would place Democrats, as a party, in the same camp as the tax-limitation group or instruct party leaders to take a step back from Horiuchi's proposed coalition.
Meanwhile, Cook said that his group will present Lt. Gov. Val Oveson a petition this week that - if enough signatures are gathered - would place sales tax removal from food on the 1990 ballot.
However, Cook said he won't give Oveson a petition on increasing the state's minimum wage to federal standards - an issue strongly supported by Democrats and union leaders. "I'm going to fight for the minimum wage because I believe in it personally. But I won't force any petition-carriers to do something they don't agree with," Cook said. At a later date, he and tax-limitation leaders will decide on the minimum-wage petition.
Horiuchi says the tax protesters' decision not to accommodate him on two concerns with the sales tax removal doesn't help his case in selling the coalition to Democratic Party stalwarts.
Horiuchi wanted the petition to "hold harmless" local governments who have a share of the sales tax and so would lose revenue if the sales tax is removed from food. He also wanted the removal of the sales tax from food to take effect in 1992, not 1991 as Cook wanted.
"We weighed his arguments carefully. But it wouldn't be fair to make the state pick up the whole cut," said Cook. Cities and counties would lose between $10 million and $13 million in total, he added. "That's a very small percentage of the $2.5 billion Utah cities and counties spend each year. The state's share of the sales tax is about $75 million. If we made the state also pick up the local governments' share, that adds $10-13 million in additional cuts to the state."
Cook did agree to shift the implementation date from January 1991 to July 1991. "We think that is a fair compromise."