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Regents back Amendment 2

But open space initiative gives board pause

Yes on Amendment 2, do your homework on Initiative 1. That was the message Tuesday to voters from the State Board of Regents, which oversees public higher education.

Many like the proposed constitutional amendment because it would clear away any "legal doubt" with regard to whether colleges and universities can hold equity interest in companies or products that result from research on Utah campuses.

Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell said the amendment would allow state colleges and universities to earn more money to do more research and development.

Utah State University President Kermit Hall said his school could take advantage of the amendment four or five times a year, albeit only a few ideas would yield any financial gain from an equity interest.

Regents unanimously passed a resolution supporting the amendment, but the group held back on making any formal declarations on Initiative 1.

Speaking personally, not as a regent, David Jordan said he thinks the initiative is "bad policy." He was the first to say the board as a whole shouldn't "politicize" itself by expressing an opinion.

"It's somebody's fight, I'm not sure it's our fight," Jordan said.

The citizens' initiative calls for up to $150 million in general obligation bonds to go toward preserving open space and clean water and building projects for recreation and government use. It would mean an annual sales tax increase of $14 for the average family.

While offering no opinion, Kendell presented positions of opponents and Gov. Olene Walker, who has publicly given reasons why the initiative "should not pass."

Walker's "grave concerns" shared with regents included the state's long-term debt capacity and bonding ability and budgeting by initiative, which opponents say is a poor way to shape tax policy. The new $150 million bond would also come right on the heels of the $150 million renovation project at the state Capitol.

Lynne Ward, Walker's chief of staff, said that requiring taxpayers in one part of the state to pay for local government buildings in other parts of the state would be like the state asking local governments to pay for the renovation of the Capitol.

The question Ward said the governor wants voters to ask is, "Does this make good public policy sense?"