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GOP LEADERS BACKING AWAY FROM BUDGET PLAN

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Imagine a state budget that closes four colleges, eliminates entire state divisions and programs and lays off hundreds of state employees.

It's ugly, and that's why GOP leaders are reconsidering even showing other lawmakers what 10 percent budget cuts would do."It does not make sense to release that kind of information," said House Majority Leader Martin Stephens, R-Farr West.

Republican leadership met early Thursday to decide whether to disclose where the 10 percent budget cuts would fall. They were to discuss their proposed budget in party caucuses Thursday and hold a press conference in the afternoon.

Before the 1993 Legislature started, the GOP announced a bold plan to identify where each state department could cut 10 percent of its budget. Money going to these "low priority" areas would then be reallocated to "high priority" areas.

The session was only three days old when leadership toned down its approach. The leaders still wanted their fiscal analyst to identify the 10 percent cuts. But, they would only reallocate 3 percent of the total budget - with 2 percent going to top priority items and 1 percent held to address "hot spots" that surfaced during the session.

Under the so-called "3-2-1" plan, some departments would not be touched, others helped and others gutted. "We won't cut any budget more than 10 percent," Speaker of the House Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said last week. "But there will be cuts in the minor departments of 6-7-8 percent."

Among the pet priorities GOP leaders have identified are class-size reductions, 3 percent salary increases for teachers and state employees, education reform and critical needs in welfare programs.

While their intentions to cut fat and improve performance appear noble, their proposals haven't been received well - even by the areas they want to help.

"We responded to the governor's office and they instructed us to do a budget based on the expected revenues," said Laurie Chivers, deputy state superintendent of education. Because there seemed to be no reason to expect that the revenues would be different, there didn't seem to be a reason to prepare a "what-if" budget, she said.

Higher education also declined to help Legislative Analyst Leo Memmott identify its low priority items. The state Board of Regents said last month that identifying 10 percent cuts is "a fruitless exercise."

The regents noted that a similar exercise with 2 percent of the budget last session didn't result in anything but devastated morale of workers whose jobs fell under the proposed cuts.

But higher education officials still want to see the "hit list" of higher education programs GOP lawmakers have drawn up. Republican co-chairmen of the Joint Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, and Rep. Nancy Lyons, R-Bountiful, said Wednesday they would try to persuade leadership to secretly share the list with university and college presidents to give them time to prepare a response to proposed budget reductions.

No matter how Republicans handle their proposed cuts, Democratic leaders believe the majority party's process of secretly determining what stays and what goes is an exercise in futility and that releasing it is cruel to state employees.

"If they (GOP leadership) believe there is a program that isn't needed then they should have it audited to find out whether it needs to be cut. You can't depend on department heads to tell you where to cut either," said Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan.

But Bishop said examining budgets is cruel no matter what process you use. He defended GOP leadership's approach as one that will give appropriation subcommittees a "starting point" from which to determine where cuts, if any, should be made.

Deseret News staff writers Jerry Spangler and Angelyn Nelson Hutchinson also contributed to this story.