Three gubernatorial candidates - independent Merrill Cook, Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter and Democrat Ted Wilson - discussed Utah's economy, tax cuts, low paying jobs, and Utah's image Friday night on an hourlong KUTV program moderated by Rod Decker.
Merrill CookCook, who has emerged as the tax protesters' candidate and who favors a $150 million cut in state taxes, characterized Bangerter and Wilson as almost identical in their thinking.
"There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two," he said early in the program, which was billed as a round table discussion of Utah's economy with three guest questioners but which quickly turned into a debate between the three candidates.
Cook promised to stand up to bankers and get them to support small-businessmen. "Banks are too stodgy," he said. He blasted Utah's spending millions of dollars to support university researchers and said that is not the way to get Utah's economy bustling.
He said he wants to cut millions from education and a large chunk from what he termed "wasteful university administration practices."
Cook said most of the new jobs being created in Utah are low paying jobs and said Utah needs to be industrialized in order to create high paying jobs that are associated with making things.
Bangerter, seeking a second term as governor, said university research in Utah is one of the most critical components in the state's economy. He defended Utah's economy as the 10th fastest growing in the country and pointed to the state's low unemployment rate and increase in jobs over the past few years.
He rapped Cook's plans to cut millions of dollars in taxes. "There is some waste in Utah's government but little or no fat. You can't cut $30 million from higher education." Utah's educational system is already lean, he said, and to make huge cuts would reduce the state's schools to mediocrity.
"It is a myth to say Utah's wages are low and that minimum wage jobs are replacing high paying jobs. Utah ranks 25th or 26th in the nation in average household income. We've taken some hits from the oil, copper and steel industries, but we haven't lost any jobs."
Bangerter said tourism is a key component of Utah's economy and there has been a 15 percent increase in tourism in the past several years and, this year, tourism is up more than every before.
"Utah's image is good, solid overall," he said.
Wilson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, said it is simplistic to believe banks are going to change or that a governor can tell banks what to do and get them to change their traditional lending practices.
He said Utah's venture capital is "the worst in the West. Our state government has to create venture capital.
Defending university research, Wilson said Utah is losing its researchers because of a lack of funding, and research facilities at the University of Utah are in trouble. "It is pure poppycock to suppose you can cut $30 million from higher education, although I am not opposed to administrative cuts."
He said Utah should expand its tourism and said "a dollar from tourism is worth just as much as a dollar from industry." He said he had short run and long run plans to boost Utah's economy and among his plans are boosts in tourism and bonding for the future.
"Utah's tourism future is exciting. Utah is beautiful and we can sell that beauty." He said southern Utah needs better roads and better motel accommodations to help tourism.