Gov. Norm Bangerter said Friday he will call state lawmakers back to the Capitol to grant $5 million for developing and commercializing an energy breakthrough developed by University of Utah scientists.
The special legislative session, which probably will be held in April, also may be good news for members of a women's commission, limousine and charter bus drivers, and may give the governor another chance for his tax cut.Bangerter, in St. George for the Easter weekend, met Friday with U. President Chase Peterson and members of the Board of Regents to discuss how to handle the scientific breakthrough announced Thursday.
"Nuclear fusion is one of the major scientific discoveries of the century," Peterson told the regents. "I would say the discovery ranks right up there with fire, with the cultivation of plants and with electricity."
Regents passed a resolution early Friday recommending that state money be made available for further development and commercialization of the new technology.
The breakthrough, announced by university scientists, was history's first successfully sustained nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature. The discovery could solve one of the most confounding scientific problems of the past 35 years and could mean the world someday may rely on fusion for clean, virtually inexhaustible energy.
Bangerter, in a statement issued through his staff, said state money will help ensure that the technology benefits Utah. He did not say where the money will be found.
"This promises to be a great scientific breakthrough with potential benefits for the entire world and we intend to take the lead in our state in helping it come to fruition," Ban-gerter said. "This accomplishment is a result of our previous investment in research and development which has been a high priority during present and past administrations."
The state Centers for Excellence is charged with helping local universities turn newly developed technologies into Utah corporations. However, the agency does not have money available to fill the needs of fusion research, officials said. Bangerter said he will ask the centers to help the research until the special session.
The governor said he will meet Tuesday with legislative leaders and university officials to discuss his plans and to set a date for the session.
Lawmakers left $19 million unspent during the past general session. Bangerter wanted to use that money for a tax cut. The governor has said he believes a rebounding economy has made more money available since the end of the session.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said no decision has been made as to what other items will be on the special session agenda. Bangerter may push again for a tax cut. Several groups are certain to lobby anxiously for a chance to have their pet issues considered.
The Governor's Commission on the Status of Women has the best chance of being included. Lawmakers refused to fund the group during the closing days of the regular session last month, and the governor has sent a letter to legislators asking them to support the group.
Bangerter wants the commission to receive $26,000, enough to hire a part-time staff.
Owners of limousine and chartered bus services also will want consideration. Lawmakers were close to passing a bill allowing patrons to drink alcohol while riding in buses and limos, but tabled it after senators received last-minute calls from representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church officials said they merely wanted to urge lawmakers to examine the bill closely before voting.
Bangerter supports the bill, but has said he will not put it before lawmakers unless he believes they will pass it.