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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
4th Congressional District candidates Rep. Jim Matheson and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love participate in a debate on KSL 5 News in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Standing along side mothers of autistic children, Rep. Jim Matheson said Wednesday that Mia Love wants to eliminate federal funding for special education.

"In America, everybody gets a chance. That's the deal," he said. "Congress saw that in the 1970s and now my opponent wants to take that away."

Love reacted angrily to that assertion, saying she's never seen him this desperate and that he's trying to scare people.

"I think Jim Matheson should be ashamed of himself and his lack of leadership, that he would take these kids and use them for his own political gain. I want to be very clear here. I believe we have an obligation to care for those who cannot care for themselves," she said.

The six-term Democratic congressman said Utah schools, including 19 in the 4th Congressional District, currently receive $104 million through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which Congress passed in 1975.

"Each school would lose if my opponent has her way," Matheson said at a news conference at the Carmen B. Pingree School for Children with Autism.

Matheson bases his claim about Love from comments she has made throughout the campaign about wanting to do away with the U.S. Department of Education. The department administers special education dollars.

"It does not mean that," Love said.

Matheson, she said, "takes things and totally distorts them." Love said she wants to eliminate federal inefficiencies and give more control to states.

"We are going to take care of those children that cannot care for themselves and need that help," she said. "But the difference between Jim Matheson and myself is that he believes that federal bureaucrats are smarter and do a better job than our own local teachers, our own local families here in the state of Utah."

Matheson called that a "naive" position.

"Quite frankly, I don't see a lot of extra resources sitting around Utah right now in the education system," he said. "To suggest that we can just pull the plug on this at the federal level and somehow it's all going to work out, doesn't reflect reality."

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