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Budget’s effect on Utah uncertain

Bush’s plans for the military are still unknown

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President Bush's new budget proposals could help some Utahns and harm others, leaders said Tuesday.

Still unknown is what specifically Bush wants to do with military spending, which could affect Hill Air Force Base and other federal military sites in Utah. Bush's military budget comes out in a month or so, but he's already said it will see increases.

Utah is a public land state, with around 60 percent of its land owned and/or managed by the federal government. And Bureau of Land Management officials say Bush's proposed 2001-02 budget, which would take effect Oct. 1, treats their projects well.

When you take out wildfire fighting funds, Bush suggests an 18 percent increase in BLM funding for next year, which would allow Utah managers to pursue land use planning, energy development and high-priority resource management, says acting director Nina Hatfield.

But before Bush can get much of his budget approved he'll have a huge fight in the U.S. Senate, where just last week a majority of senators voted to cut his proposed tax reduction plan by 25 percent and nearly double the spending increase for next year.

On an individual basis, Bush's tax plan could have the largest impact on Utah families, putting more money in their pockets.

While Bush wants a spending increase of 5.6 percent — after removing Medicaid and Social Security from the equation, just a 4 percent hike — senators last week voted for an 8 percent increase.

"This may be the first budget in history that wasn't just dead on arrival. It was dead before arrival," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Monday after getting the five-volume set.

The Senate is evenly divided — 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans. But some moderate Republicans have split with Bush over tax cuts and spending.

Reflecting his theme in the 2000 election, Bush's new budget pushes federal education programs. For example, his $49 billion public education budget is about a 15 percent increase over the current year's spending, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Federal money accounts for about 7 percent of Utah's education budget.

"We'll get a piece of that in all those different areas, and so definitely it's going to mean more money coming into the state for education purposes," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Laing said Tuesday of Bush's proposal. "Right now, I think he's looking in the right areas. Some of the details on distribution formulas and whether funds coming to the state can be leveraged with existing state action will be one of the questions we'll want to watch and have answered."

The president's proposal includes a $459 million increase in Title I funding going to high-poverty school districts and $10 million for charter schools aimed at encouraging school choice. State grant programs also would increase. The proposal would add $375 million to teacher quality improvement and $1 billion for special education.

Higher education also would receive budgetary increases, including an additional $1 billion for Pell Grants, $2.2 billion extra for state financial aid. Also, science and math teachers might not have to repay up to $17,500 in student loans if they agree to work in low-income neighborhoods. Right now, those teachers can have $5,000 deducted from student loan bills, according to the education department.

Bush wants to trim some other programs, however, including a number of areas where he believes the private sector can do a better job. He wants to cut training for health professions by 60 percent, slash renewable energy research by 44 percent, cut former President Bill Clinton's community-oriented policing monies by 23 percent.

Bush wants to reduce the Community-Oriented Policing Services funding from $1.2 billion to $926 million. Local law enforcement officials predict a ripple effect in Utah, where police departments have hired dozens of officers using COPS funds.

The Salt Lake Police Department has spent $5.3 million in COPS funds hiring 49 new officers since 1993, while the West Valley Police Department has spent $1.7 million hiring 38 officers.

Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, was an energy consultant. Matheson's wife is a pediatrician. Bush's budget specifically cuts energy conservation and R&D programs and pediatrician training.

Matheson is concerned about both the programs, saying they are worthy goals and are small parts of the budget.

But he likes Bush's overall budget goals. "I applaud the president's effort in holding down spending. I want reduction of the national debt; and I fear that if revenues don't come in (after the tax cuts) then the first thing to go will be debt reduction."

Matheson said he believes cuts in community policing are wrongheaded. "Crime rates are down. And when we find a program that really works . . . we should fund it."

Critics are also screaming about Bush's plan to reduce low-income energy assistance programs by 32 percent, a real problem in some western states which are seeing record hikes in energy costs. As many as 3.6 million families in 18 states risk having their utilities cut off through non-payment, claimed Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com