State might minimize higher ed budget cuts

By Jed Layton, Asst. News Editor

In an effort to minimize statewide budget cuts, the Utah Legislature might postpone construction for one or two years on a building complex at the U that would house science and technology researchers.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City and chairman of the executive appropriations committee, said the committee recommends the state’s budget be cut by $350 million for this fiscal year.

However, he said the committee proposed $175 million be given back to state agencies, including higher education. Bigelow said $46 million that was originally intended to fund the U’s building would be used as part of the backfill money.

The building is intended to hold researchers employed under the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative.

Kim Wirthlin, U vice president of government relations, said the U is in the process of confirming exactly what the committee proposed to be done with the USTAR building. She said she thought the committee recommended the construction of the USTAR building be funded through loans instead of paying with cash as previously planned. The cash would then be used as part of the backfill instead, she said.

“My understanding is that they are going to bond instead of using cash,” she said. “I have not heard that the USTAR building is going to be postponed.”

The USTAR Initiative and building were approved two years ago by the Legislature to stimulate the economy through business development and research. It was planned to be built where the golf course is currently located. The building was to be built with both government and private funds.

Jackie Desmond, a sophomore in economics, said she would be extremely upset if the Legislature postponed construction on the USTAR complex.

“The whole purpose of the building was to help stimulate the economy,” she said. “Why stop something that might help us?”

Despite the confusion about the status of the USTAR building, Wirthlin said she was pleased with the recommended cuts.

“That is what we were hoping for,” she said. “Obviously, it is much easier to handle a 3.5 percent cut than a 7.5 percent cut. We are appreciative that the Legislature found a way to backfill so we would have a smaller cut in the current year.”

Fiscal years run from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next year.

Bigelow said the $46 million from the USTAR building will be accompanied by $32 million from bonding buildings, $52 million from delaying the construction of a jail, $30 million from a water development loan and $15 million from a disaster recovery fund.

No money was used from the Rainy Day Fund in adding money back to the state budget.

“We wanted to give them money to get through the rest of this year. This year is halfway over, so we restored half of the money we originally cut,” Bigelow said. “We didn’t use the Rainy Day Fund. We wanted to save that for our last option, but I do expect we will be using it soon.”

The budget cut recommendations must now be approved by both the Senate and the House. Bigelow said both will likely pass the bill. He said the Legislature will be working on the budget for next year during the next couple of weeks while also keeping an eye out for next year’s revenue estimates.

“We already know we have to cut 2 percent for next year, but if the revenue estimates show we need to do more, we are in a position to do so,” he said.

Bigelow said he thinks cuts for next year can also be kept low by using options the Legislature hasn’t touched yet.

“We can pull money out from other programs, raise fees on various tax issues and use the Rainy Day Fund,” he said. “All of those options are still there, but we have not committed ourselves. Some will be used and some won’t.”

Chris Jones, an undeclared sophomore, said the budget cut was not as bad as he anticipated and has high hopes for the coming years.

“I think they are trying to minimize cuts to education,” he said. “I just wish the legislators don’t make too large of cuts. That will just make everything worse.”

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