Leavitt Announces Budget Cuts But Spares Higher Ed.

Rainy days have come to Utah’s economy. But when Gov. Mike Leavitt asked other agencies to cut spending, he gathered higher education under a budget-cut umbrella.

Leavitt describes Utah’s economy as V-shaped. Last year, the economy rolled in money, but right now, the state sits at the bottom. Leavitt hopes by summer 2002 the economy will fully recover.

The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks added to an already steady slowing of state tax dollars, which required Leavitt to take out half of the state’s $120 million rainy-day fund, also known as the state?s savings account.

The budget is now $177 million in the red.

At a press conference Friday, he announced that a 1.5 percent cut will be added to the originally 2.5 percent ?hold back? he requested from state agencies in June.

Before Leavitt’s press conference, U President Bernie Machen expressed concern about the budget. He said if higher education became included in the state’s second budget cut, the U could not compensate for, or do without, those monies. He said even a large raise in tuition would not compensate for the funds.

After Leavitt’s announcement, Machen was unavailable for comment, but other administrators expressed their approval of the governors’ decision.

Earlier this year, estimates showed state tax revenues missing the mark by $80 million. Leavitt asked state agencies, including higher education, to hold back?not cut?2.5 percent of their spending.

For example, the U’s geology and geophysics department in the College of Mines and Earth Sciences already held back $31,715. In all, the U held back $5.4 million. That money has now been cut.

Associate Vice President for Budget and Planning Paul Brinkman said, “We did our best to absorb that. I believe the departments did a pretty good job deciding where to cut the spending, but we are not out of the woods yet.”

Brinkman approved of the governor’s decision not to ask higher education to cut another 1.5 percent. He still worries if the economy doesn’t improve, higher education will lack funding. “The state can’t allot money it doesn’t have,” he said.

Regents Chairman Charles Johnson met with the governor only minutes before Leavitt announced the budget reform. Johnson said during the meeting, Leavitt informed him that this cut would not affect higher education.

“He is a believer in education. He knows that it is the key to the future economy of this state, and he didn’t want to take anything from our already tight budget.”

Although pleased by the governor?s decision, Johnson said “We still face a very uncertain future. It is still going to be difficult. The state’s institutions face large enrollment growths, because as the economy slows down, more and more adults go back to school.”

The state must have funding to compensate for the large number of students, Johnson said.

Other entities besides higher education not hit by the most recent cut were public education and public safety.

[email protected]