On June 8, Greg Beesley wrote a column in this newspaper criticizing the Taxpayers for Utah for, in his words, "using fear as a weapon against the public" in opposing the tax limitation effort.
He accused Taxpayers for Utah of being "well-heeled former politicians, in league with so-called educators" and having "launched one of the most rank and arrogant intimidation campaigns in memory." His tactics need to be considered and his arguments corrected.First, Mr. Beesley's attack on the Taxpayers for Utah is both inaccurate and revealing. The four co-chairmen of Taxpayers for Utah - Scott Matheson, Warren Pugh, Cal Rampton, and Wallace Bennett - are indeed former officeholders in this state. But far from serving any self-interest, their only motivation is their loyalty to and hope for the state of Utah.
In addition, and contrary to Mr. Beesley's suggestion, the vast majority of those working with Taxpayers for Utah are private citizens. And while educators are indeed supporters of Taxpayers for Utah, our largest number of supporters are businesses and groups of private citizens, such as the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Farm Bureau, and Utah Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, and the AFL-CIO. These and many other groups have studied the tax limitation proposals and concluded they will terribly damage Utah's economic future.
Second, it is undisputed that the tax limitation initiatives would remove $350 million from the current state budget. Mr. Beesley and others in the tax limitation movement have steadfastly refused for the past year to identify where they would cut state, local, and school district budgets to make up that $350 million reduction, instead engaging in a kind of wishful thinking that no really important services will be cut.
Then they attack anyone who suggests where those cuts might be made as using scare tactics. But the tax rollbacks will have consequences and those consequences are indeed frightening.
They will mean, for example, an approximate 13 percent budget cut for our overcrowded schools and prisons and our already underfunded road construction fund.
Until and unless Mr. Beesley can say specifically where he would make the $350 million in budget cuts, he should not criticize those who attempt to inform Utah voters by suggesting where those cuts might be made.
Third, tax limitation proponents try to gloss over the issue of where the cuts would be made by simply saying there is waste in Utah government. There is no doubt waste in Utah government, as there is in almost all businesses and families. But neither Mr. Beesley nor anyone else has identified where this waste is.
The evidence suggests that there is less waste in Utah government than anywhere in the country. Perhaps the most fiscally conservative Legislature in the nation has, since 1985, reduced the state's budget by 7.1 percent in adjusted dollars. The majority of those legislators have been devoted to looking for and eliminating waste.
Jack Olsen of the Utah Taxpayers Association has said that the state's most recent budget is the tightest he has seen in the last 25 years. Utah ranks last among all 50 states in the number of public employees (excluding educators) per 10,000 population. And even when educators are added in, recognizing that Utah ranks first in the country in the percentage of its population in school, Utah still ranks 43rd in public employees per capita.
In 1987, there were some 20,000 graduating high school seniors and 35,000 first graders in Utah. Our prison population has increased 65 percent in four years.
On top of this, President Reagan's program of pushing governmental services, and government funding, to the lowest local level has increased the responsibilities of Utah government. These are times that require greater governmental efficiency but which cannot suffer the serious injury which the tax rollbacks would inflict.
Fourth, Mr. Beesley and his group imply that the tax limitation initiatives will help stimulate Utah's economy. But this view is rejected by those who have carefully studied the proposals and who have vested interests in Utah's economy - the Chamber of Commerce, the banks, the Farm Bureau, and many other businesses.
They conclude that the initiatives will hurt much more than they might help. The rollbacks would reduce by 13 percent the budgets for our state research universities, our public schools, our tourism budget, our road fund.
These private businesses and organizations have concluded that the damage done by those reductions would hurt creation of new Utah businesses, and ultimately undermine our present businesses.
Taxpayers for Utah is thus made up of private Utah taxpayers who care about the future of this state, its economic development as well as its quality of life.
We want efficient, waste-free government and a fair and frugal tax rate, but we do not want to become a second-rate state in the name of tax limitation.
(James S. Jardine, an attorney, is a member of Executive Committee of Taxpayers for Utah.)