Low-key is the only way to describe higher education's lobbying for Friday's special session that has been called to consider appropriating $5 million to the University of Utah to fund cold nuclear fusion research.
"We haven't done much lobbying," admits William C. Loos, U. director of governmental relations.Added Vicki Varela, assistant to the higher education commissioner, "We haven't been making phone calls (to legislators). We're not doing any heavy lobbying. We're going to let the presentation stand on its merit."
Some legislative leaders believe lobbying isn't necessary, that the project will receive a vote of approval and the $5 million appropriated.
Legislative leaders met Tuesday afternoon to discuss how they are going to run Friday's special session.
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said the House and Senate will meet at 9 a.m., have opening remarks and then the Republicans will go into sepa rate House and Senate caucuses - perhaps closed meetings. At about 10 a.m. they will come back into session and hear from Gov. Norm Bangerter, if he wishes to address them, and then meet in a joint session in the House chambers to hear a presentation from the U.
"We won't allow any questions from the floor (from legislators)," Christensen said. "We just want this to be a general briefing from the experts."
If any responsible party opposing the funding wants to address lawmakers, Christensen said, the person may be allowed to speak in the caucus. However, he is not seeking critical comments.
Merrill Cook of the Tax Limitation Coalition requested and will get a chance to voice opposition to the $5 million allocation.
Tax protesters think it's premature to grant funding before the experiment is verified.
"It's not that we don't believe in research and it's not that we don't hope as much as everyone that this pans out at the university, but we think the timing of the announcement by the U. and the call for the special session was premature and has hurt Utah's reputation," Cook said.
At about noon, lawmakers will adjourn for lunch and further caucuses. Christensen said he imagines these meetings will be open and at this time legislators can ask questions of the experts who addressed them at 10 a.m. At about 2 p.m., lawmakers will meet in their respective houses. A bill appropriating the $5 million will start in one house, and a bill setting up the various review boards and mechanisms for spending the money will start in another house.
"We hope this will only be a one-day session and that it will all wrap up Friday," Christensen said.
The art of political persuasion was practiced last week when U. President Chase N. Peterson, higher education officials and the governor convinced legislative leadership to hold the special session.
After that, the only contact with the rank-and-file legislators was a memo dated March 29 signed by Peterson, Higher Education Commissioner Wm. Rolfe Kerr and Chairman W. Eugene Hansen of the State Board of Regents.
The two-page memo praised the Legislature for past support to higher education and then briefly described the experiment and its importance. It said an industrial prototype was needed because "Utah was on the threshold of reaping the benefits of its modest investment in scientific research at the University of Utah."
The memo asked for the $5 million appropriation but stressed that the funds would be used only upon scientific confirmation of the initial findings.
"There are no guarantees in this venture, but we believe it is worthy of your confidence," the memo said.
Loos said one legislator called after receiving the memo to say he had questions about the experiment. He was told that the U. is willing to set up a meeting with legislators and scientists before the special session to talk about concerns.
At the Capitol on Friday, Peterson and U. scientists, including fusion researcher B. Stanley Pons, if he is available, will make their case to legislators.
The lack of intense lobbying, as has occurred with other issues, seems to indicate that higher education expects legislative approval for the package.
"Generally, the signals (from legislative leadership) are that they are really sold on the (project's) overall good, even if it doesn't turn out as big as it looks now," Varela said.
Loos said the state isn't giving the U. a blank check. The bill being drafted outlines a three-tiered review before money can be spent and will provide a mechanism for funding to be halted if the research proves wrong.
"We don't get the $5 million. We only get the right to draw on it. The safeguards are there. The critics will be heard before we get the money," Loos said.