Two Salt Lake County senior citizen organizations decided Monday not to take a position now on the tax-limitation initiatives, but to study the issues further.
But some older Salt Lake area residents became engrossed in matters surrounding the tax proposals, likely to appear on the general-election ballot in November, and were not afraid to speak out during a meeting in the Sunday Anderson Westside Senior Citizens Center.The Salt Lake County Council on Aging and its Senior Legislative Committee sponsored the gathering, at which Mills Crenshaw, K-TALK Radio host and a founder of the Tax Limitation Coalition, and Jon Memmott, a consultant to Taxpayers of Utah and Gov. Norm Bangerter's former chief of staff, spoke.
The Tax Limitation Coalition, which has gained widespread support in Utah, proposes a $350 million cut in state, county, city and educational budgets across the state.
Coalition supporters say government and education have become too preoccupied with taxing people and lavishly spending their money. They say its past time to require heavy cuts in education and other government spending.
Memmott and others associated with his group, which includes chambers of commerce, education, public and school district employees, numerous other organizations and former governors, say the public must be aware of the initiatives and the far-reaching consequences if they are approved by voters.
"The tax initiatives aren't the same as Proposition 13 (an initiative that dealt only with property tax). They go much further, do much more and have much greater impact," said Memmott.
"I'd like to ask you (Crenshaw) how you would cut programs, which programs would be cut and how much if $350 million were cut," demanded Justin Stewart, an attorney, former state legislator and senior-citizen advocate.
Crenshaw appeared to avoid the question. But when pressed repeatedly by Stewart for an answer, Crenshaw said he advocates, for example, the elimination of the "duplicative waste" in the state Office of Education and transferring the agency's responsibilities to other existing agencies.
He said a California educator and administrator, who has been an educational consultant to a third of the states, says his studies show that Utah could get by with a maximum of 24 school districts. The state now has 40.
Crenshaw said one commission, which he said examined every department of state government, found "between 20 and 25 percent waste, fat and administrative overhead."
Memmott said taxes, economic development and related matters are much more complex than Crenshaw and his colleagues seem to understand. He said they cannot be solved by broad, sweeping changes that are not carefully studied.
Crenshaw maintains that high taxes have forced some businesses out of Utah, but Memmott said taxpayers of Utah has asked businesses about the tax structure and firms don't generally feel it is out of line.
Responding to questions about integrity and economy in government, Memmott called for an absolute halt to any illegal activities and for stepped up efforts to improve efficiency and economy in government.
"We have got to be more efficient, but to claim that we are just bloated and out of control in Utah is not not substantiated," Memmott said.
He praised governmental operations and the school system. Memmott said Utahns can be proud of the way government operates, particularly in view of continuing budget cuts in recent years.
Crenshaw told the audience, which included a number of older people who seemed frustrated that they were halted from expressing opinions when asking questions, that "entrenched bureaucrats are using fear and terror in various groups, particularly the aged, to try and convince them that they must vote against" the propositions.
Janice Treml, chairwoman, Salt Lake County Council on Aging, said the senior-citizen organizations did not take a position following the Memmott-Crenshaw debate.
"Rather we will form a task force of council members and study the issues of tax limitation before coming back to the council with a recommendation." The task force will be formed within the next two to three weeks, but a "formal recommendation will probably not be made until August or September."
Treml, who is executive director of Community Nursing Service/Hospice of Salt Lake, said she believes the council is "not ready to act. But the issue is serious because it really affects the population for which the council was formed to be an advocate."