Spirited college students chanting slogans and carrying placards sent 1,000 green balloons skyward from the Capitol steps Friday in an anti-tax limitation rally. Each balloon symbolized 10 college students who would be denied a college education in Utah if the tax-limitation measures pass.
Chanting "Just Say `No!' " and "Save Our Schools," the 100 students who came from Utah's nine public institutions and two private colleges said they were representative of thousands of Utah college students who fear the damage that tax limitation would inflict on Utah's system of higher education.Throughout the debate over tax limitation, the State Board of Regents has said budget cuts under tax limitation would most likely force the state higher education system to turn away 8,000 to 10,000 students and raise tuition by 25 to 30 percent.
The students didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that their demonstration paled in comparison to the Oct. 29 pro-tax initiative rally for independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook. More than 2,000 Cook supporters shouted pro-tax initiative slogans on the Capitol steps that day.
"This is really to show the diversity of the students opposed to the initiatives rather than the number. Also, the bulk of our students do not live in Salt Lake," said Darin Bird, president of the Utah Student Association, the organization representing more than 100,000 students attending the state's 11 public and private colleges.
Bird, who is student body president of Southern Utah State College, said the real strength of their commitment will be demonstrated at the ballot box. More than 22,000 college students have been registered to vote as part of anti-initiative efforts at Utah's colleges..
"This has unified us like nothing has ever done before," Bird said of the initiatives.
At Dixie College, for example, 1,200 students were registered, while another 1,400 were registered at SUSC. That is slightly less than one-half of the student populations at each of the schools.
Students from Brigham Young University and Westminster College also participated in the voter registration drive, even though they are private schools that don't fall under the regents' control. "They are not even involved politically, but they were willing to register students. I think that says something," said student body President Stephanie Jessen of Weber State College said.
She said today's students are more likely to work in grassroots efforts, such as voter registration, than rallies, which had their heyday in the Vietnam era.
Most participants at the noon rally were students. However, Democrat Brian Moss, who is trying to unseat Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, made a brief appearance, saying he supports the students in their anti-tax initiative efforts.