Taxes will be the top issue Saturday as Democrats and Republicans gather in conventions in Salt Lake and Davis counties.
And whether the tax rollback initiatives succeed or not, the tax issue will remain hot through the 1989 Legislature. Guaranteed."I'm convinced no matter what happens in the conventions and in the election, it's going to be a much more fiscally conservative Legislature in January," said H. Craig Moody, GOP state party chairman. "Even the Democrats are going to come in more conservative."
Why? Legislators generally reflect the attitudes and feelings of their constituents, Moody said, and right now taxes, more particularly the tax increases of 1986, are foremost on most voters' minds.
"It's such an emotional issue," Moody said.
In fact, Moody predicts education funding and reforms will "play second or third fiddle" behind tax limitation and tax reform.
Another emotion-charged issue gnawing on candidates and incumbents is a solution to Utah's thrift crisis, where the failure of a state-mandated deposit insurance fund made it impossible to cushion the collapse of several thrift and loans and an estimated loss of $37 million in deposits.
Thrift depositors have no strategy to make the thrift issue part of either party's platform. But some 40 depositor delegates will attend upcoming conventions to poll would-be lawmakers on their support for the state reimbursing depositor losses.
"Most candidates are aware that the problem is out there and expect it's something the Legislature will have to solve sooner or later," said David Irvine, a political consultant for depositors.
Resolving the public's outrage over increased taxes will be harder to do, particularly in light of a large surplus. That surplus, coupled with voter displeasure, is prompting many incumbents who voted for tax increases to sing tax limitation praises, noted Mills Crenshaw, a leader in the tax limitation movement.
"They are changing their tune," he said. "It's a little late, but they have seen the disastrous impact the taxes have had on the Utah economy. They realize it may take 20 years for the state to recover."
Crenshaw and Moody rarely agree on anything, but Crenshaw agrees with Moody that the 1989 Legislature will be radically more conservative, at least fiscally.
"It's going to be a taxpayer's Legislature," he said. "They (lawmakers) are realizing the sheep have grown teeth."
Tax limitation will definitely have some effect on the Legislature. A large number of tax limitation proponents are running for legislative seats.
"We don't have a total count yet on how many (tax limitation candidates) there are," Crenshaw said. "But we do know it's greater than we dared hope for."
Many other tax limitation proponents were elected as party delegates to county and state conventions. In some districts, all of the elected delegates are tax limitation proponents. Those delegates could jeopardize the re-election bids of several prominent Republicans who voted for tax increases.
For example, Crenshaw claimed that Rep. Walt Bain, R-Farmington, doesn't have enough delegate votes from District 17 to make it out of the county convention. He said three or four other incumbents could meet similar fates.
"Overall, we (tax limitation supporters) took two out of three delegates (at party caucuses in April)," Crenshaw said. "There are many areas where we made clean sweeps. There are those who won't be making it out of convention."
Crenshaw is optimistic that tax limitation candidates will challenge for legislative seats in 70 to 80 percent of the districts in the state. Those candidates _ most of them Republicans _ stand a good chance at the conventions.
Tax limitation candidates are also running as Democrats and Libertarians. "When you look at the in-party challenges, most are tax protesters or people who will be a lot more conservative than what we've got now," said Moody. "Since 1980, we've been shifting to a more moderate Legislature, but now there will be a shift back. How far I don't know."
Officials of Depositors of Insured Thrifts, an organization spearheading efforts in state court and on Capitol Hill to restore depositor losses, said they didn't know of any candidates inspired by the thrift problem to seek office.
But, "a number of incumbents and candidates are concerned about the thrift issue and finding out what happened and options for solving the problem," Irvine said.
DOIT's political strategy includes activity within the political process to find and support candidates sympathetic to the depositors' plight.
But major emphasis is being placed on DOIT's class-action lawsuit against the state for reimbursement of depositor losses, and a legislative task force established by lawmakers and Gov. Norm Bangerter in the last legislative session.
Irvine said that if the task force aggressively investigates alleged state involvement in the thrift crisis, the issue will "become a hot topic" that can't be avoided when political debate heightens by November.