In the end, Gov. Norm Bangerter got what he wanted out of this week's special session of the Legislature - a tax rebate and some other uses of a $110 million surplus, exactly in the proportions he had proposed.
In addition, the governor gained support for reducing the income tax in years ahead by lowering rates 5 percent and restoring one-third of the deduction for federal income taxes paid. Legislators also managed to perform a number of housekeeping chores and make some corrections.The one item that had been expected to drag the special session into perhaps several days of debate was missing. At the governor's request, any consideration of what to do about reimbursing depositors of Utah's failed thrifts was dropped from the agenda.
Under the circumstances, the session lasted a few hours longer than it needed to, mostly due to a lot of political rhetoric. Perhaps feeling that this is their year, Democrats appeared more than ready to confront the governor's programs. In the Republican-dominated House, they filibustered in an attempt to force other kinds of rebate programs and other kinds of tax cuts for the future. It was the first filibuster anyone can recall at the Legislature.
The GOP House members, lacking enough votes to cut off debate, were clearly frustrated by the 16-hour session and were nearly ready to offer a compromise quarter-cent sales tax reduction. But a deal worked out on a workman's compensation issue finally persuaded Democrats to give up their filibuster at 1 a.m. and tired lawmakers were able to go home.
In the end, the voting on the tax issues was almost entirely along party lines, with the Democrats holding out for using more of the surplus on struggling social programs and education, and the Republicans firmly committed to giving the money back to the people who paid it.
Aside from the fact that it is hard to use one-time money for ongoing programs without causing problems in subsequent budgets, the Legislature had promised in the 1987 session to restore any surplus by means of tax credits next year. The new wrinkle - with obvious political overtones - was to return the money now as a cash rebate.
The rebate will pay $80 million to taxpayers on the basis of 12.5 percent of what they paid in state income taxes. That should give Utah merchants a shot in the arm as the money is pumped into the economy. Another $10 million was approved for one-time education spending, mostly textbooks and other equipment, and $20 million was set aside in a "rainy day" fund against future revenue shortfalls.
The issue of the failed thrifts remains an unsolved cloud on the horizon. An earlier proposal by a state task force to reimburse depositors with 100 percent of their money still looks better than a law suit.
Negotiations are still going on with depositors, whose biggest question is what to do about $10 million or more in legal fees. They want the state to pick up the tab for that as well. Bangerter properly wants all parties to share in the losses, not just the taxpayers.
Despite the lack of even a debate over the thrift issue, the just-finished special session was needlessly acrimonious. Let's hope it is not setting the tone for increasingly bitter partisan struggles in the future sessions. The Legislature shouldn't act as a rubber stamp, but let's try to get along without more filibusters.