Gov. Norm Bangerter and his Democratic challenger, Ted Wilson, exchanged sharp words Wednesday over Bangerter's plan to return $80 million in income tax surplus and permanently cut income tax rates.
Wilson called Bangerter's plan "crass politics" and accused him of trying to buy votes. Bangerter said Wilson is making "wild accusations," and that it's typical of Wilson to oppose tax cuts. "He opposed them time and again while he was mayor," Bangerter said.Bangerter added that Wilson doesn't understand that if he and the Legislature do nothing, there would be even a more severe and an unfair income tax reduction.
Meanwhile, Utah House and Senate Republicans, in closed caucuses, put aside any problems they had with Bangerter's plan. After hearing from the governor in person, they endorsed the proposal almost unanimously, said House Majority Whip Olene Walker, R-Salt Lake.
While the Bangerter-Wilson exchange came on June 15, it seemed more like Oct. 15. For usually such dueling press conferences, charges and countercharges occur late in a campaign.
Both men's actions showed that, in politics, sometimes you have to retrench and do things that you promised you wouldn't do.
For Wilson, it was a quick about-face. Tuesday, Wilson said that if Bangerter fiddled about with revenues for 1989, he may have to take back his promise not to raise taxes while governor.
Wednesday afternoon, Wilson said he had rethought that statement. "I've reconsidered. I won't raise taxes, period," he said, "No matter what the governor does to foul things up."
Bangerter Wednesday broke a campaign promise not to meet with legislative Republicans behind closed doors. While running for election in 1984 and reacting to Democratic criticism that a Republican governor and Republican-dominated Legislature would do business out of the public's view, Bangerter promised never to go into a closed Republican caucus of the House or Senate.
But he went first into a closed GOP House caucus, and then into a closed Republican Senate caucus. Asked about that in a 5:30 p.m. news conference called to counter Wilson's charges, Bangerter admitted his 1984 stand. "I went in to lay it (is tax-cutting plan) on the line. I thought the exception justified. We had a good discussion."
Apparently so. Wednesday morning the Deseret News talked to a number of Republican lawmakers who had concerns about Bangerter's plan. But after two-hour closed caucuses, both House and Senate GOP leaders said they believe their members will support him.
"We took a straw poll in the House. And while I won't divulge that count, I can say it appears we won't need Democratic support to pass it in the House," said Walker. Bangerter will call a July special session to deal with the surplus. The date hadn't been firmly set Wednesday, although July 5 appeared the most likely.
Wilson, in an afternoon news conference, said Bangerter is showing "once again the same old pattern of on-again, off-again hide-and-seek leadership." He said Bangerter engineered the tax surplus so he could give it back to citizens in an election year. "His yo-yo economics has been used to gain voter favor in election years, overtax them in off years, and then use the taxpayers' money to buy back their favor," Wilson said.
While Wilson favors giving $80 million back to taxpayers in refund checks now, before the election, he still calls the move "crass politics." Wilson opposes Bangerter's plan to cut income tax rates by 5 percent and restore a third of the deduction on state returns for federal taxes paid. Those changes would give an ongoing tax cut of $68 million.
Wilson says the 1989 general legislative session (hen he could be governor) should deal with any ongoing tax cuts. "You shouldn't make tax policy in a two-day special session, when you don't have the financial data on what those changes mean and when citizens don't have adequate access to the Legislature," he said.
Bangerter said people shouldn't be surprised that Wilson doesn't want the permanent tax cut now. "Consider his record as mayor of Salt Lake City. Ted Wilson advocated tax increases 10 times in 10 years. He quadrupled the utility franchise tax and resisted the lowering of it by the Legislature. I guess Ted Wilson thinks postponing action is leadership. I strongly disagree."