Merrill Cook, independent candidate for the governorship this year, has some very specific plans for state government.
In fact, his plans are more detailed than those of the so-called big boys he's running against.But unless you happen to bump into Cook as he crisscrosses the state, read about him in the press or see him on a TV news program, you probably won't be hearing much about his plans until September.
That's when Cook plans on spending the lion's share of the $300,000 to $400,000 he hopes to raise. He won't be doing any TV advertisements until then.
Cook, an unsuccessful candidate in the 1985 Salt Lake mayor's race and in the 1986 Salt Lake County commission contest, has clearly done a lot of thinking about this year's gubernatorial election.
"As an independent, I can win the office with 38 percent of the vote," he figures.
"I'm not in this race to be a spoiler. I'm not in this race to be a kingmaker. I'm in this race to win. And I can and will win," Cook said.
He likens the election to a professional basketball game. "I have to stay in the game for the first three quarters. I don't have to lead. I don't even have to do very well. In the final quarter after the Republican primary election that is when we will get hot and make a real run for it."
Cook, a Republican Party player before announcing as an independent, said he won't try to manipulate GOP politics. He probably could. Cook is supported strongly by tax limitation advocates, some of whom have been GOP state delegates in the past. By running a slate of Cook supporters for GOP delegates, he could throw a monkey wrench into the smooth workings of the Republican State Convention, maybe even try to get a tax-cutting plank into the GOP platform.
But such GOP gamesmanship "would be counterproductive for me," said Cook.
Instead, he'll be talking issues with anyone who will listen.
"I want the tax increase imposed last year rescinded. We can do it. But none of the other candidates will even talk about it."
Cook said more than $150 million can be trimmed from state government over the next year or so in these areas:
$41 million can be saved by combining four state departments Agriculture, Community and Economic Development, Business Regulation and Natural Resources and Energy into one large department. "The objective of the super-department will be the creation of jobs." He'd cut $21 million from economic development, which sounds strange in his job-creating platform. But Cook said the current economic development budget "is wasted" in how it is spent.
$14 million could be saved in university and college administration. He believes administration at the University of Utah is especially bloated.
$35 million could be cut from public education administration, Cook said. "We have to completely restructure public education." He supports moves to abolish the Board of Education, although the Office of Education should be kept. "I want to shake up education. Now, 13 cents out of every dollar goes to administration. I want to cut that to 10 cents."
$75 million can be saved over the next several years by allowing the number of children in school classes to drift upwards. Cook realizes this is controversial but said that the next several years will see an average increase in class size of only 1.5 pupils. Then growth in the number of students will naturally decline.
"Even if we go up by 1.5 students per class, we won't reach our all-time high achieved several years ago. We managed it then, and if we can get through the next several years until the peak subsides, we can save $75 million," Cook said.
"People in office say we can't cut $150-160 million from state government. But $150 million is only 5.5 percent of the total budget of $2.7 billion. We can do it. And we can do it without drastic effects on services. We just have to have the will. I do."