With three tax-limiting petitions guaranteed a spot on the ballot in November, friends and foes of the initiatives are gearing for what promises to be a bitter four-month fight for votes.
Lt. Gov. W. Val Oveson announced Tuesday afternoon that petition organizers had more than surpassed their goal of getting 62,964 signatures on each initiative, including 10 percent of the eligible voters in at least 15 counties.Each petition was signed by more than 71,000 voters. Oveson said some petitions were yet to be turned in.
The announcement prompted sighs of relief from organizers of the petition drive.
"I was worried clear up until last night," said Greg Beesley, president of the Taxpayers Coalition of Utah, the group behind the initiatives. "This is the most difficult of the nine petitions I've organized since 1973."
Opponents of the initiatives said they had expected the petitions to appear on the ballot and promised to begin a media campaign warning about the dangers of drastic tax reduction.
If passed, the three measures would cap property taxes at .75 percent of the value of a home and 1 percent of the value of other property; reduce state income, cigarette and sales taxes to their 1986 levels; and grant tax credits to parents whose children are enrolled in private schools.
Meanwhile, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Finlayson issued an opinion Tuesday saying the petitions are valid despite the way they were turned in.
Oveson asked for the opinion last week because the petitions, originally prepared in numbered packets with no more than five sheets attached, were restapled and turned in with 40 or 50 sheets attached.
He said Tuesday he was happy with Fin-layson's opinion.
"It would be a tragedy to knock out something like this on a technicality of that type," Oveson said.
With the initiatives on the ballot, both sides are promising a campaign to educate
Beesley said Tuesday he hopes fund-raising will be easier now that the petitions
have been accepted. Members of the group will meet during the next few days to organize the campaign.
"It all depends on the money we raise," Beesley said. "If we had (the money) the opposition is going to have we would have a heyday."
He said the tax coalition targeted only 18 of the state's 29 counties during the petition drive because of a lack of money.
The group hopes to convince voters that tax cuts will lead to economic development. Beesley said tuition tax credits could generate $73 million for state and local governments because the credits would generate more business for private schools.
A group called Taxpayers for Utah, meanwhile, is counting on broad-based support in its fight against the measures. The group hopes soon to begin radio and television ads aimed at convincing people the tax cuts will devastate programs they rely on while hurting economic development.
"The public has only heard one side of the issue for months now," said Dale Zabriskie, spokesman for the group. "When they fully understand the issues, they (voters) will vote against the initiatives."
Opponents of tax limitation recently received the support of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
Zabriskie said Taxpayers for Utah includes not just former and future politicians.
"The public will see that this coalition is probably the broadest they've ever seen," he said.