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ECONOMISTS FLAY HOUSE PLAN THAT RULES OUT A GAS-TAX HIKE

SHARE ECONOMISTS FLAY HOUSE PLAN THAT RULES OUT A GAS-TAX HIKE

They didn't exactly use the words "stupid" or "idiotic." But if you read between the lines, they were sure thinking it.

A committee of the state's leading economists, collectively referred to as the State Economic Coordinating Committee, released a report Friday blasting the Legislature's plan to spend $2.6 billion on highways without raising the gasoline tax.The committee "believes that unless the legislative plan is adjusted to be based on more conservative, identifiable and achievable revenues for transportation investment, while at the same time assuring that critical state government needs are met, the transportation funding plan poses a significant risk to the long-term health of the Utah economy."

The committee advises Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is pushing his own highway funding plan that includes a 4.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, as well as increases in registration and other fees.

GOP House members have held firm to their belief that they can fund the highway project by slowing the growth in government, shifting about $1.25 billion in general funds away from state programs and into highways over the next 10 years.

Leavitt's attempts to sway the reluctant representatives has thus far failed, prompting the governor to launch a public relations campaign.

At a Friday press conference, Leavitt again blasted the House GOP plan as short-sighted. His own plan calls for $1 billion in revenue to be diverted to highways, but he says the House plan goes even further - too far - by diverting yet another $1.25 billion from essential state services like schools, public health, welfare, law enforcement and prisons.

Leavitt has three more working days to get his gas tax through the Legislature. Senators believe they may have the votes to pass it, but it remains more than a dozen votes short in the House.