Utah lawmakers will gather Tuesday for a special session of the Legislature that promises to be one of the busiest - and one of the most emotional - for many years. Taxpayers and thrift depositors will be watching intently.

Yet it is already clear what should happen. The lawmakers should refund about $80 million of an income tax surplus, and some kind of settlement should be made to give depositors in failed thrifts much of their money back.Also on the agenda are 10 other mostly minor items, including fixing some errors made in last winter's general session. In addition, the governor could add as many as nine other "possible" issues to the list.

Legislative leaders are talking about a two-day session, but given the confusion over the thrift issue, political conflicts, and all the other work to be done, the gathering easily could stretch out longer.

There is a temptation in special sessions to put too much on the table. The number of items should be kept to a minimum and limited to those that are either very urgent or can be handled quickly.

Legislators are honor-bound to give back the income tax surplus. The only real question is how to do it - rebate the money now, or return it in the form of tax credits next year.

There are compelling arguments for rebating the money now. It would be a real boost to the economy and the money would go back to those who paid it in the first place, not a guarantee under the tax credit plan.

Under Gov. Norm Bangerter's proposal, the estimated $110 million surplus would be handled as follows: $80 million refunded to taxpayers, based on 12.5 percent of the 1987 income tax return; $10 million for education, and $20 million in a rainy day fund.

Democrats would rather give back $60 million and cut the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent.

A additional fight over how to deal with the on-going surplus appears unavoidable, as both sides have a variety of approaches to cutting tax rates, and allowing state credit for at least some federal income taxes paid. Doing away with the federal deduction on the 1987 state tax form was heavily criticized.

The Republicans - with heavy majorities in both houses - have the votes to carry out their wishes. But they lack enough votes to be able to shut down debate, a situation that could add to the time involved in the special session.

The biggest problem clearly is the thrift issue. There are no proposed solutions that appeal to everybody, or even a large majority.

A state task force has proposed that depositors be refunded all their money in the failed thrifts, with the state picking up the tab. The governor says that puts too much of the burden on the taxpayers, and that all should share in the costs. The depositors want their money back, plus several million dollars in legal fees. Such demands go too far. Any decision is complicated by a brewing tax revolt.

There is no answer that will satisfy all Utahns. Lawmakers should try to spread the sacrifices around without hurting any group too much. Then they'll simply have to take the criticism that inevitably will follow - not an easy task in an election year.