Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook may not have changed many minds Thursday during his appearance at the University of Utah, but he held his own - even got a few students to laugh at his jokes.
Cook spoke and answered questions before the Hinckley Institute of Politics. As a strong supporter of the three tax-cutting initiatives, Cook is suspect among many college students and professors. He wants to trim the U.'s budget by $15 million, and many of those in attendance Thursday wanted to know how he'd do it without hurting them."I can't get the classes I need to graduate. I'm on a waiting list with 80 other students. You want to cut the money. This (university) is going to hell in a handbasket as it is," said one student.
Cook said he understands the young man's concerns. His answer: increase university teachers' class loads by two hours a quarter, cut administration and trim back college courses that few students take.
It was apparent from their comments that most didn't buy Cook's ideas.
"For all you skeptics, the only way to find out if I'm right is to vote for me. Come on," Cook said, smiling. He added that business as usual for the university just won't work anymore.
"We had the largest tax increase in the state's history a year ago, sold by the governor as an increase for education. But what did you get? We find out not even a third of the increase went to education. You still need more money and you aren't going to see tax increases again." So what do you do? Try something new, he said.
The answer, Cook believes, is tax cuts, not increases. "Time and again it has been proven that tax cuts - putting more money in the working man's and woman's pockets - stimulates the economy, leading to more, not less, tax revenue."
Cook said that a number of studies on the teacher work load at the U. show the average professor carries a six-hour class load. "That is below the national average. I want to increase that work load by two hours a quarter. That's all. I figure that will save most of the money," the $15 million Cook believes the tax-cutting initiatives will cost the U.
He'll do all this without harming the U.'s research programs, which bring in about $200 million a year, he said. "Seventy percent of the grants and research programs are brought in by 10 percent of the teachers," Cook said. Obviously, you don't sacrifice the research money of that 10 percent, but look to other teachers to carry more of the teaching load.
Won't the tax initiatives have any impact on the U.? "Yes, they will," Cook admitted. "I see tuition going up by 5-8 percent, not the 30 percent some of the opponents are saying. I see it remaining tight in getting the classes you want. I see a restructuring of several departments - not the closing of departments - but restructuring so we're cost-effective." He also wants better management.
"The initiatives mean a 6 percent cut in the budgets of state and local governments. Are we to really believe 6 percent can't be found in waste, administration and fraud? Of course it can."