Matheson: Economic growth starts with funding education

By and

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr. said public and higher education are his top priorities and believes they are keys to promoting economic growth in Utah.

“Our biggest challenge is education, and I also think that education is an economic driver,” Matheson said Thursday in a discussion at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

He spoke about his views on funding education, how that investment will fuel the economy and then supported his claims by referring to Arizona’s current system.

Funding education

Students asked Matheson to differentiate himself from his opponent, Republican candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., who has also praised research institutions and recognized their role in fueling stimulating economic growth.

Matheson said he wants to increase funding for public education, while his opponent supports tuition tax credits for private education.

“I worry that it will take taxpayer dollars away from our public schools and will send the wrong message to the 97 percent of families whose children are in the public school system,” he said.

Instead of supporting the tax credits for private schools, Matheson said he wants to increase funding for public schools by $89 million without raising taxes, a measure that would mean raising the portion of state revenues spent on education from 47.6 percent to 50 percent.

To support his proposition, Matheson referred to his 17-page education plan that includes long-range funding.

“I see [education] as the key to the future of the state, so we need to make sure that we have a good strategic long-term plan that takes our institutions of higher education forward,” he said.

“First thing I’ll do is set up a commission on government efficiency,” he said. “I will look at every corner of state government I can find, every cost-saving I can possibly find, eliminate every redundancy I can.”

Matheson said this approach has worked well in the past when new governors have replaced long-running administrations. He cited the case of Arizona where Gov. Janet Napolitano has cut millions of dollars in spending during her two years in office. Matheson said he is concerned about other issues as well.

Matheson added that Utah should be better compensated for the federal land that lies in the state and that money should, in turn, help support education.

Education fueling Utah’s economy

The candidate said he thinks a close, productive relationship between higher education, the business community, other research universities and the Legislature will allow great ideas to be turned into intellectual property, to be marketed and to be produced.

“To me, that is the economic lever that is going to move the state forward,” Matheson said.

Education is a big issue among businesses that consider bringing their companies to Utah, according to Matheson.

“If I had to go out of this state and sit down in a board room to convince someone to bring their business here, one of the first questions they’re going to ask me is, ‘What is the school system like?'” he said.

His opponent, Republican candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., has taken the reverse stance regarding the interaction between the economy and education in his 10-point plan for revitalizing Utah’s economy.

That plan includes revamping the tax structure, improving the competitive environment in Utah for small- and medium-size companies, recruiting businesses and attracting capital and tourism among other things.

In the plan, Huntsman writes, “Building a stronger economy is the key to Utah’s future, and the key to funding a quality education for our children and grandchildren.”

However, a recent press release from the Huntsman campaign asserts a stance similar to Matheson’s. “Passing Amendment Two will send a signal loud and clear to companies and innovators alike, both in and out of state, that Utah has an environment that facilitates economic development through more meaningful utilization of our premier research institutes.”

Jason Chaffetz, Huntsman’s campaign manager, added, “The research institutions will play a critical role in our economic future. One of the keys is establishing centers of excellence at research institutions such as the U.”

“There are a lot of things we need to do to both improve education and to improve our economy, and we need to do them all at once,” Matheson said. “But a governor has to be a multitasker…I know that I have to be addressing homeland security, health care, transportation, water and more.”

The case of Arizona

The candidate said other states share his approach and recognize the dynamic link between research institutions and businesses as the “core driver behind their economic program.”

Matheson cited Arizona, which is investing in its research infrastructure and building a linkage between institutions and research-supporting business to fuel the state’s economic growth.

According to Gilbert Jimenez, Arizona’s commerce director, the universities of [The University of Arizona], Arizona State and Northern Arizona have active research capabilities.

Jimenez hopes their research acumen will spark economic growth.

“One thing we’ve done a fair amount of here in Arizona is to look for and better understand the universities’ core competencies,” Jimenez said.

An outside consulting firm validated those competencies, and Arizona is following up on the results, relying on research-orientation to stimulate the economic situation and attract businesses.

“We’re using the findings of the study and trying to pull together more of the capabilities that those three universities have available,” Jimenez said. “We’re taking the generation of those ideas and technology and converting that into a useable product that the user can build on.”

Matheson stressed the urgency to take a similar approach to that of Arizona.

“We’re falling behind other states in recognizing this strategy, and we need to get on board,” Matheson said. “There’s a growing consensus in Utah that this is exactly what we need to do.”

He quoted Gov. Olene Walker, who two weeks ago said, “higher education is the engine that drives our economy.”

Huntsman will participate in a discussion with KUER radio host Doug Fabrizio next Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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