The State Board of Regents set aside their budget hearings Friday, instead choosing to hear from faculty, students and a businessman about how passage of the tax-limitation measures would hurt them personally.
Upon the recommendation of Wm. Rolfe Kerr, commissioner of higher education, the board voted to postpone their traditional budget hearings until November. Kerr argued that it would be unproductive to make budget decisions that may have to be overturned if the tax initiatives pass."These are not normal times, and we can't proceed with normal action," Kerr said.
He said the projected cuts of 13 percent, or $34 million, would hurt much more deeply than the 6 percent reduction of two years ago.
"We are not talking about a pro rata cut, where each person, program and institution would divide up the pain equally. We are talking about the agonizing process of identifying nearly 1,000 instructors and staff, 100 majors and vocational programs, 4,000 class offerings and, most importantly, 8,000 to 10,000 students that must be plucked from our institutions," the commissioner said.
"We will try in every way possible to preserve our strengths. But even if we do not reduce funding for our star programs, many of our best students and instructors will choose to take their talents elsewhere," he said.
Three faculty members from the University of Utah and Utah State University and students from USU, Southern Utah State College and Salt Lake Community College detailed how the projected budget cuts could affect them.
The three faculty said any cuts that hurt the quality of their programs would force them to accept out-of-state offers. That would mean taking their research programs, which totaled $1.5 million, and accompanying staff with them, they said.
The students said they, and their peers, would have a difficult time paying the 25 to 30 percent increase in tuition that the regents have predicted will come with the budget cuts from tax limitation.
Dick Kallage of Bourne's Precision Controls, an international electronics firm with headquarters in Ogden, said his company employs 200 Utahns and their average salary is $26,000. In the international market in which Bourne's competes, the critical factor to success is continuous improvement. And that is tied to skilled workers, not equipment, Kallage said.
Kerr said that instead of the usual plea to legislators for adequate higher education budgets, he was pleading with citizens "to continue to invest in their families, to continue to invest in their communities, to continue to invest in the future of the state of Utah" by defeating the tax initiatives.