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Educators, public health advocates lobby against cuts

By John Daley | Posted - Jan. 28, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Cuts are coming to the state services many Utahns use, as lawmakers continue to wrestle with the tough decisions spawned by a $700 million budget gap. The question is just how deep those cuts should or will go.

That $700 million figure is a huge one, and legislative leaders say at least a 4 percent cut across the board is needed. It means cuts will affect virtually every corner of state government.

Employees and students in Utah's colleges and universities, for example, are worried. On Thursday, undergraduates from the state's two public research institutions -- the University of Utah and Utah State University -- presented their Research Posters on the Hill, giving lawmakers a chance to see their projects.

The schools say they need to maintain funding for higher education.

"I mean, people aren't just going to just do this on their own. They need funding in order to delve deep into the understandings of it. Yeah, it's important to not cut funding, particularly for research," said Stephen Greene, senior student at the University of Utah.

Joyce Kinkead, associate vice president for research at Utah State University, said, "It was certainly tough in the mid-80s when we had that recession, but I must say this is even worse than that this time. It's been very hard on our students, in terms of getting classes. I think we're going to see the resurgence of bottleneck classes lengthening time to graduation."

Another example: Public health advocates worry cuts to Medicaid will mean eliminating dental coverage for pregnant women over the age of 21. They urge a tobacco tax hike, but lawmakers say the hole is so big even that won't be enough to avoid cuts.

"There's lots of options we can do before we start kicking people off the program or cutting services," said Jessica Kendrick, community engagement director for the Utah Health Policy Project.

"The amount is so large that when people say ‘raise the cigarette tax' or ‘raise this tax or that tax' it would take a significant tax increase to bring us up to what we were before in revenue," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Cache County.

There are many tough decisions to make and not enough money to serve all the needs.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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