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Use Rainy Day Fund now, Beattie urges Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY — Holding a black umbrella over his head in the Capitol's indoor dome, Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie told Utah legislators that it was raining.

"Tomorrow the sun is coming out. The future is bright. Today is the day to use the Rainy Day Funds," Beattie said.

He and other business leaders gathered to call for taking $50 million out of the Rainy Day Fund and increasing state tobacco taxes to fund public and higher education.

Randy Shumway, CEO of the Cicero Group, said polls and surveys show 90 percent of business executives and 80 percent of Utahns support raising the tobacco tax. He also said moving the tax from 69 cents to the national average of $1.40 would generate $40 million to $70 million a year.

"That frees up money within the state budget to fund education," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert told the Deseret News on Wednesday that he has his veto pen ready should a tobacco tax increase cross his desk.

Beattie said legislators, including Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, were "very realistic" about the situation and the suggestion when he discussed it with them, but remained hopeful and insistent that the Rainy Day Fund is the answer to saving education.

"We don't have to implement all those taxes," he said. "There's enough money. … We have a Rainy Day Fund."

Business leaders and Beattie expressed concerns that decreases in education spending would mean a reduced labor pool, a shrinking job market and bad news for Utah businesses — something Beattie called "a step backward."

"Businesses need educated workers, and a state with educated workers attracts business and, therefore, brings further economic development to the state of Utah," said Jake Boyer, chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors and president of The Boyer Co.

But in the end, Beattie conceded the Legislature doesn't always see issues the same way businesses or constituents do.

"The Legislature doesn't always function from the point of view that one plus one equals two," Beattie said. "When you look at things with the whole state in mind, it doesn't always look the same."

e-mail: ashaha@desnews.com