A special session of the Legislature called to give the University of Utah's nuclear fusion research a $5 million boost is premature, a spokesman for the group behind last year's failed tax initiatives said Friday.
The Tax Limitation Coalition warned that if the research that has been called a major scientific breakthrough cannot be verified, "both the state of Utah and the University of Utah would suffer grave reputation damage."In a one-page press release issued the same week Gov. Norm Bangerter called for lawmakers to meet in special session on April 7, the coalition predicts that a premature special session "could contribute to a circus atmosphere."
Already, the March 23 announcement by a pair of scientists at the U. that they had created a sustained nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature has generated worldwide interest and some skepticism.
And while their results are in the process of being verified, Brigham Young University has suggested that the U. broke a "gentleman's agreement" over releasing information on the research.
"It is quite evident from the conflicting local news accounts of the experiments . . . that a quieting down of state and university claims while the confirmation process continues would be helpful," the release states.
Noting that the reputations of both the state and the U. are at stake, the release concludes, "The state's taxpayers do not deserve to have these reputations put at risk during the scientific confirmation process."
The governor sought the special session to help the state capitalize on what has been called the greatest scientific accomplishment of the 20th century and one with unlimited commercial potential.
Legislative leaders, who were at first reluctant to return to Capitol Hill, changed their minds in a private meeting with Bangerter and U. officials. Bangerter, who had not seen the coalition's release on Friday, emphasized the money is not an attempt "to give away the store."
The governor said the money would be administered through the state Centers for Excellence, not given to scientists in the form of a "blank check to see how fast they can spend it."
The coalition failed to win approval for three tax-limitation measures that went before voters in last November's general election. Members are planning to launch a new initiative drive to remove the sales tax from food purchases and increase Utah's minimum wage.