Lyle Hillyard

Four-day school weeks could be in the offing for Utah schools as a way for school districts to handle high gasoline costs, a legislator said Wednesday.

"I think you're going to see a change in how we drive" as a result of the fuel prices, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, told shareholders of Aquila's Tax-Free Fund for Utah.

"You get a local school district, especially a rural school district, they have a lot of busing, those gas prices are just enormous, enormous costs to their schools," he told a crowd of about 50 at the 16th annual shareholder meeting. "And I think you're maybe going to see four-day school weeks, things like that, that the locals are going to have to do because of the high price."

Another possible impact of high gas prices is lower revenue from the gasoline tax if people opt to drive less. That could make it difficult to fund road projects, he said.

"I suspect there are people who would normally come to this meeting who are not here today because they are concerned about their gasoline bills," he said. "It's going to have a serious impact not only on our driving but our cost of food, our utilities. It's a serious problem that we need to get some kind of handle on or make some very serious adjustments."

Hillyard, a fund trustee and co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Executive Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature may enter its 2009 session without a surprise "or not much of one." But most states are facing serious downturns, he added.

"I was appalled the other day to hear that California, the figure I remember hearing is that they bonded for $300 million — one-time money — to pay ongoing retirement benefits for retired employees," Hillyard said. "I mean, you operate your budget like that very long at your home, and pretty soon you run out of money."

Hillyard commended Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for his economic development efforts, especially in expanding markets for Utah companies overseas. Seven major companies are considering Utah for operations and jobs paying $75,000 to $100,000 annually, he said, and the USTAR initiative foretells "a very, very bright future for the state of Utah economically."

Hillyard said when he was a student at Utah State University, many of the friends who were majoring in engineering left the state for jobs.

"All of them had to to go Colorado or New York or California," he said. "Very few of us were able to stay in the state of Utah. Now, I'm told by the major companies here in Utah they cannot hire enough graduates from engineering schools at Utah and Utah State. There is greater demand in the state of Utah for those engineers than before."

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