As soon as the deadline for submitting tax-limitation petitions passes, leaders of the state's tax-protest movement will turn their attention to independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook's plan to increase the proposed cap on property taxes.
Cook has said that public schools would be spared a potential $90 million loss in property tax revenue if the limit, or cap, on property tax rates specified in one of the initiatives is increased.He wants to increase the limit set in the initiative from 0.75 percent of the fair market value of residential property to 0.9 percent, and from 1 percent to 1.2 percent for commercial and other non-residential property owners.
Initiatives must appear on a ballot using exactly the same wording as on the petitions circulated to put them before voters, so only the Legislature could change the limit if the initiatives are approved in November.
Despite Cook's concern that the property tax limit was set too low, he said the initiative should still be supported by voters since it can be changed later.
The Tax Limitation Coalition of Utah has not yet taken a position on adjusting the property tax caps, coalition leader Greg Beesley said, although the issue has been discussed.
The limits defined in the initiative are "probably a bigger bite than needs to be taken," Beesley acknowledged, although he said that he has not decided how the limits should be adjusted.
One way to allow more money to be collected for education would be to keep the proposed property tax limit on residential property taxes while raising the limit on commercial and other non-residential property.
The organization's first priority has been to collect enough qualified signatures to get the initiatives on the November ballot. The deadline for submitting the petitions that have been circulated around the state since last year is June 13.
"Once they're on the ballot, then we'll start to talk about it," Beesley said. He said adjusting the limits in the initiative has the support of most of the key members of the coalition, including radio talk show host Mills Crenshaw.
Whether the thousands of Utahns who have circulated petitions or the tens of thousands who have signed them will support any change in the property tax limits remains to be seen, Beesley said.
He said their reaction to Cook's proposal will depend on how well the gubernatorial candidate and the coalition explain the need to keep from trimming taxes back too far.
The $90 million difference between Cook's proposal and the initiatives as written would be allocated to the public school system. But if the tax initiatives pass, even if later amended according to Cook's plan, schools would still see less money.
Another tax initiative, which rolls back increases in income and other state taxes passed by the 1987 Legislature, would cut state revenue by $150 million, including $90 million for education, according to Cook.