A report that says state government can save $40 million to $60 million by being more efficient contains errors and little evidence to support many of its conclusions, a group of accountants appointed to study the finding said Friday.
Meanwhile, the leader of the committee that wrote the report admitted he reached the $40 million-to-$60 million figure "off the top of my head," but he wondered how accountants could quickly discount a report that took months to compile.And Gov. Norm Bangerter, who appointed both the committee that wrote the report and the accountants who discounted it, said all sides should work together to find ways to save money.
Bangerter called all sides together Friday and said the report is the first step in a long process to make government more efficient.
The report, officially released Friday but widely publicized for days, already has generated political controversy. Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook and other proponents of three tax-limitation initiatives believe it supports their opinions that government is full of waste.
Greg Beesley, chairman of the Tax Limitation Coalition, called a news conference earlier this week to say he suspected Bangerter had prepared rebuttals to the report and had altered the original recommendations.
But Bangerter and committee chairman R.G. Sailer said they had not altered the committee's original recommendations.
Bangerter said he appointed accountants to examine the report because he "deemed it prudent to ask for a second opinion from an impartial group."
"I deplore the deliberate misuse or misrepresentation of this report for the political purposes of some," he said.
"None of this should be interpreted as conclusive. This is the first round."
The report examined the University of Utah, Granite School District, the state's computer system and the state Health Department.
The section examining the U. generated the most controversy. The report says costs at the school have increased faster than inflation since 1981 and the university pays 25 percent more to award a degree than does Westminster College.
The school could save $15 million to $20
illion yearly if its professors taught eight credit hours of classes per quarter rather than an average of less than six, the report says. The change would require professors to spend less time on research.
But the accountants, lead by Dallas H. Bradford of Arthur Andersen & Co., said the university's costs have declined since 1981 when increased enrollment is taken into account.
They criticized the committee for comparing the U. with Westminster College, saying there are legitimate differences between the programs offered. They also said the report contains no proof that professors are teaching an average of less than six hours per quarter.
"The probable method used by the subcommittee to estimate teaching load contained significant factual errors," says a statement issued by Bradford. University professors actually teach nine hours per quarter, according to figures obtained from the Board of Regents, the statement says.
U. President Chase Peterson, also at the meeting, said the school would lose much of its private funding if it allowed less research. The school currently receives $110 million from the state and attracts $400 million more from other sources. The University of Wyoming receives $92 million from its state and attracts only $64 million from elsewhere, he said.
"That's the fundamental issue," Peterson said. "Do we want to afford that kind of multiplication in this state?"
He said research leads to more jobs and new businesses along the Wasatch Front.
The accountants said the committee, composed of 40 businessmen and professionals - many of which are retired - simplistically compared the university to a private manufacturing business.
"We found little sensitivity in the report to well-recognized differences between manufacturing and education," they said.
State officials did not discount all parts of the report. Health Department officials said they already have implemented some of the recommendations.
Sailer admitted the report may contain errors. He said he reached the $40 million-to-$60 million figure by examining the recommendations and arbitrarily reducing some of the estimated savings to remain conservative.
The accountant said some of the estimated savings appear to have been little more than arbitrary assumptions.
Bangerter said he will study both reports before deciding whether to support any of the recommendations.