photos by Trent Bates
Hundreds of students from universities across the state rallied the State Capitol Jan. 30 due to proposed state legislature budget cuts to higher education.
Jackson Olsen, executive vice president of Utah State University’s student government association, emceed the event by introducing members of the legislature supporting the cause of protesters. Olsen also spoke passionately about the amount of students coming to support, “We are here to dispel rumors of apathy. This is not just our futures and our educations, but also the future of the state.”
Representative Jack Draxler of Logan thanked the crowd for engaging in the political process by making their voices heard.
Draxler also mentioned that the legislature was going to prevent higher education from receiving crippling budget cuts, at least for the fiscal year 2009, which ends June 30. He said that during fiscal year 2010 that the legislature would be mindful of higher education.
A recurrent theme in the morning’s events included that higher education is the future of the state and a valuable investment. Current president of Snow College and Utah State University alumnus, Scott Wyatt, presented the statistic that for every dollar invested in higher education, the state will get seven dollars in return. He also noted that in times of economic distress cutting investments is not wise and records show that investing in hard economic times is a way to improve revenue later. He adamantly repeated the phrase, “We are the solution, not the problem.”
Umbrellas lined the crowd and signs claiming that rainy days have come, referring to the state’s ‘Rainy Day Fund’ which was established for times of economic hardship. This fund has been suggested by many to be used at this time to help with the impending budget cuts not only affecting higher education but also public education. Wyatt did the math and said the Rainy Day Fund has increased to approximately $500 million since it was depleted from its original $125 million to $20 million after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 caused many of the funds to be allocated to several projects and budget changes.
Sen. John Valentine, a familiar face to the UVU community, also spoke. “Yes. The answer is yes,” Valentine said, “We are restoring half of the cuts we proposed a week ago.” Governor Jon M. Huntsman has proposed a plan to cut 11 percent of the higher education budget, as opposed to the previous plan of 19 percent.
Protesters were then allowed inside the building to sit in on the House of Representatives session. Rep. Rhonda Menlove introduced the group to the house, which was received with a round of applause.
Whether the rally has had an effect on the legislatures decision is yet to be seen. Some estimate the budget may not be finalized until March.