On July 5, Utah lawmakers will gather in the State Capitol to conduct what has become a yearly event - a special legislative session.

Special sessions used to be rare occurrences.But for the last decade there has been at least one special session almost every year. Sometimes there are more, although these "extra" special sessions are usually called only to make technical corrections in mishandled legislation and last only several hours.

That won't be the case July 5.

This will be the most substantial special session since several years ago when lawmakers decided in a special spring session to dike and pump the Great Salt Lake.

Lawmakers in this upcoming session will decide what to do with the $110 million state surplus - a lot of money by any figuring - and whether the state should bond-spend-or-otherwise-help-out the depositors who lost millions of dollars in the failed thrifts and loans.

Both matters are complicated. And both, despite the claims of the politicians, are driven by election-year concerns.

Gov. Norm Bangerter, in placing the two controversial items on the special session agenda, says both are problems whose solutions are needed now, regardless of the upcoming election.

In defending that claim, he said he promised a year ago to return any unexpected tax surplus to taxpayers, and now is the time to do it.

Also, updated and reliable figures on the remaining assets of the thrifts are now available, so now is the time to decide the state's responsibility in that matter and avoid costly court battles, he said.

Both statements are true.

But let's not be naive. If both problems are handled well, thousands of voters will have another reason to vote for Bangerter and the legislators who did right by them.

After all, while it may not be completely satisfactory, there is already a law on the books that would return the surplus via tax credits on 1988 state income taxes.

And the thrift problem has been around for two years. It was even debated in the last Legislature, with lawmakers deciding not to act, but to study the matter further.

So it can be argued, and some legislators are so arguing, that there is no need for a special session at all right now - that both matters can wait until the January-February general legislative session.

But of course, that session is after the Nov. 8 elections. Good intentions about returning the surplus or solving the thrift problem later will carry little weight in the election.

Actually giving income tax payers a cash refund and/or returning part or all of the depositors' lost money before the election will definitely make them feel better about those running state government.

Or so the general reasoning goes.

But there are those, even in the Republican Party, who think a check in the mail won't placate voters.

House Majority Leader Nolan Karras, R-Roy, sees the cash rebate program as a political wash. "Some will be glad to get the check. But others will be cynical," he says.

Democrats are tougher. "It will be seen as trying to buy votes, and I don't think it will work," says Senate Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Salt Lake.

The thrift issue is really a sticky one. Depositors - who have organized politically this election year - want all their money back. They think the state is morally and legally responsible for their losses, since the state set up the inadequately-funded savings guarantee fund that failed to cover their deposits when the thrifts went under.

Lawmakers may well decide to help out the depositors, but it appears now they won't be willing to put up enough money to restore the losses plus pay for the depositors' attorneys fees and for interest lost on the savings these past two years.

So Bangerter and lawmakers could end up doing something for the thrift depositors, but not enough to make them happy, and just enough to anger other taxpayers who don't want any of their money spent on helping the depositors.

So, the July 5 special session will be a hot one, regardless of the temperature outside the Capitol.