Utah's social service organizations are disappointed that they failed to persuade legislators to divert the tax surplus into social programs.
But they don't have time to sulk about their loss. Instead, they're preparing for a more vicious battle - fighting the tax rollbacks.Utah social service groups spent all day Tuesday until early Wednesday morning trying to persuade legislators that the $110 million surplus was the result of essential social programs having their budgets slashed.
But their efforts were in vain. The legislature adopted Gov. Norm Bangerter's proposal to return $80 million to the taxpayers, set aside $10 million for education and $20 million for a rainy day. Lawmakers also reduced state income taxes by 5 percent.
Norm Riggs, director of the Mentally Retarded Association, said the legislators didn't want to consider diverting the money into social programs.
"They didn't want another 100 hogs at the trough." He said his agency will have to "wait and see" what the actual impacts of the Legislature's decision will be.
"I think people will be really surprised when they get their refunds checks and see how much money they actually are getting back. It was a really dirty, political thing. It was pretty cut and dried before the session even started," said Sandy Fink, a representative from Crossroads Urban Center.
Most people, especially those in low-income brackets, did not understand the surplus or the proposal. They only understood they would get $200 back, and that's all they cared about, she said.
However, Norm Angus, Department of Social Services director, said the Legislature's decision is not what social service organizations need to be concerned about.
"Next year's budgets have already been funded; the 5 percent tax reduction will not affect them. But if the rollbacks go through, we will be in a world of hurt," he said.
Angus said the department's budget will be cut by at least $14 million if the initiatives are approved. The two tax-slashing initiatives are scheduled to be on the election ballot in November and would reduce property, state income, gasoline and cigarette taxes.
Fink said it's essential that the public is educated about the effects of the rollbacks. "One bad thing has already been done; we don't need to do another."
She said a number of people who are signing the rollback petitions are in the low-income bracket, and they are the ones who will suffer the most if the rollbacks are approved.
"They don't understand what the rollbacks mean," she said. "They only hear lower taxes and more money.
"Outside businesses are going to look at Utah and say `They don't even care for their own people, why should we go live there? Why should we send our children to schools where they will have to compete with 30-plus other students for an education?' " Fink said.