The question of how to finance the operational costs of the Utah Partnership for Education and Economic Development will be resolved over the next few weeks, Gov. Norm Bangerter said Tuesday.
The issue of whether government agencies or the private sector should come up with $150,000 in annual operating expenses was raised recently when the partnership requested $50,000 each from higher education, public education and the Department of Community and Economic Development. Spokesmen for Economic Development and public education questioned their responsibilities for putting the request into their budgets. Higher education put a $50,000 line item into its tentative budget, but with very low priority.The three government agencies entered into the partnership with the private sector as a way to promote mutually beneficial projects. However, the question of how the partnership office itself should be funded was not resolved with its creation. The $150,000 is needed to pay the salary of the partnership's executive, James R. Moss, and operate an office.
After a meeting Tuesday morning with partnership representatives, Bangerter pledged to resolve the question. Bud Scruggs, the governor's chief of staff, said the various interests will work together to determine the most feasible way to finance the partnership. The meeting was closed to the news media.
"The governor expressed full support for the partnership and committed to putting together the money to keep it going. He's ready to do it from state resources if that is necessary," Scruggs said. Earlier, the governor had appeared reluctant to tap state money to finance the operations of the partnership, assuming that was one of the areas that private sources should cover.
"Everyone is going to go back to their shops to decide how best to handle this," Scruggs said. He said that the matter will probably have been resolved by the time the governor has his preliminary budget ready for release in December.
Donald Holbrook, partnership board chairman, said after the meeting that it is not unusual for the state government to help underwrite the costs of private endeavors, including the Utah Symphony, arts programs and others. The state contribution to their funding does not make them state agencies, he said, nor should a state contribution to the partnership mean that it will become part of state government.
Holbrook said that the "problem that has come up is not in any way going to endanger the partnership." The budding program has been touted as important to the evolution of stronger ties between business and education. Strengthening of those ties has the potential to enhance economic development in the state, promoters say.
The business interests that have bought into the partnership concept would rather spend their time and energy raising money to meet a $10 million match imposed on the private sector by the Utah Legislature, Scruggs said. The Legislature appropriated $15 million for the Utah Technology Initiative, the partnership's first project, with the understanding that public education would make a $5 million match and the private sector a $10 million match.
Over four years, the initiative could put as much as $200 million into technology for Utah's schools when the government and private funds are combined with vendor discounts, its promoters say.
Scruggs said some of the present confusion relates to misunderstanding about the relationship between the partnership and the initiative. The partnership expects to promote many projects in addition to the technology push.