The State Board of Regents Friday urged Utah voters to vote "no" on the tax-limitation initiatives in November.
In a formal statement approved unanimously, the board said if Utahns vote "yes" on the initiatives, "They will vote to end a Utah tradition of open access to higher education." The regents discussed the tax proposals during their monthly meeting, held Thursday and Friday at Southern Utah State College."They will also be voting that they no longer want higher education to play a major role in the state's economic development."
The regents said they feel it's their responsibility to inform Utahns about the initiatives' impact on higher education. The 16 members of the board are appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Utah Senate and serve without pay.
The board also told the state's nine university presidents that it is also their responsibility to make certain that Utahns understand the effect that the initiatives will have on the institutions that they lead. "We expect you to and charge you with the responsibility of speaking out," chairman Eugene W. Hansen told the presidents.
Although it was never mentioned, the board's desire that college presidents take an active role against the initiatives came only days after independent gubernatorial Merrill Cook criticized U. President Chase N. Peterson for giving anti-initiatives speeches.
The regents' formal statement, which followed a Thursday retreat that concentrated on the initiatives, said that the anti-tax measures would eliminate $34 million from higher education - an amount equal to the state appropriations to five of Utah's nine public institutions.
"Clearly, we cannot close five institutions," the statement said.
The regents said a more reasonable response would be tuition increases of 25 to 30 percent; reduced educational opportunities because of personnel and program cuts; and an enrollment decrease of 10,000 students.
"If the state's capacity to educate its people is decimated, then the future of Utah is decimated," the regents said.
The statement explained that higher education brings $150 million into Utah annually. That amount multiplies in the state's economy and provides a base for spin-off companies.
The initiatives would impair higher education's contribution to the state economy by the loss of key faculty and programs that draw research dollars to the state; the loss of faculty and programs that provide job training and the loss of spin-off businesses.
"On one day in November, Utahns could vote to cause damage that would require at least a decade to repair. The outstanding capacity of higher education to contribute to Utah's future has taken decades to build. The Board of Regents urges the citizens of Utah to vote against the tax proposals that would dismantle this capacity," the statement read.