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WANT VOICE IN BUDGET? HOTLINE IN THE WORKS

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Dial 1-800-WAH!

Democrats don't yet have the details, but party leaders said last week they'll seek feedback from the public as they craft the party's suggestion for a skinnier state spending plan.That's right, a budget-cut hotline, House Minority Leader David Jones, D-Salt Lake, told a gathering of his democratic colleagues.

Seriously, Jones said. "We could set one up right here. Let's let people call us and tell us what they think can be cut."

Democrats from the House and Senate met together for the first time Thursday, and the gathering allowed a chance to massage their philosophy and commiserate. Someone got snubbed by Gov. Mike Leavitt's chief of staff, someone else warned against inter-party sniping when tempers get hot.

Junior politicians used the joint gathering to gain insight into the subtleties of being a Democrat in the Utah State Legislature.

How on earth, asked Rep. Brad King, D-Price, does a freshman know which invitations are worth accepting? It's confusing in a state where industries host events in support of and directed to members of the state's majority political party.

Four days into the session, he'd already made one mistake, King said. The Transportation Users Breakfast was - democratically speaking - a bust.

Look at the speakers, advised Sen. Scott Howell, D-Granite. Too many Republican faces signals trouble. He handled a similar situation this way, he told King. "I sent the invitation back with a note that I would be in attendance when they recognize that there is a two-party system in this state."

It's part of being in the underdog party, Howell said. But it's important to take a democratic stand. "You need to say, `If you want to have a Republican dominated program, that's fine - but don't invite us to listen to the propaganda.' "

The hotline idea sprang out of a discussion/venting about how to have a hand in budget concerns for the Beehive State. Money is tight, and the Republicans are looking for ways to cut costs. So are the Democrats. They're looking at tax exemptions and have identified $64 million to recover, Jones said.

"Let's look at closing the governor's office in Washington, D.C.," Jones said. "How 'bout the one downstairs?" someone chimed in.

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