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Kearns • Rep. Jim Matheson said Thursday that budget cuts proposed by his Republican opponent, Mia Love, would expose communities to more crime and endanger the lives of police officers.

"This isn't a party issue. [Police officers] don't get up in the morning thinking about politics. They just want to do the job and catch the bad guys and come home safe to their families," Matheson said. "My opponent does not value safe communities, and I will stand with Utah law enforcement every time."

Love has put forward a budget proposal that slashes federal spending, including eliminating $5.8 billion in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to local police departments.

In 2010, Utah received nearly $20 million in DOJ grants for things like bulletproof vests, jailing undocumented immigrants and gang prevention programs. Unified Police Department Sheriff Jim Winder said losing the money would put communities and police officers at greater risk.

"Unquestionably, federal dollars have saved police officers' lives on multiple occasions and made our communities safer. It is a valuable partnership," Winder said.

Winder said he would have to take officers off the street or raise local taxes to make up for the lost federal dollars, "because sending officers out without bulletproof vests right now just isn't going to happen."

Love's campaign spokesman, Brian Somers, said Matheson is proving he's not serious about dealing with the budget deficit.

"While Jim Matheson touts his fiscal credentials, the thrust of his campaign ... has been using Obama-like scare tactics in defense of program after program in the bloated federal budget," Somers said. "He says that budgeting is about making choices, but his record in the last four years shows his choice is always for more spending."

Somers said members of Congress need to debate the merits of appropriations and that "local leaders can and should be held responsible for local public safety and budget issues."

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright also blasted Matheson, saying he was distorting the facts and taking a page from President Barack Obama's campaign playbook.

"He's running a campaign on distortions and divisions and distractions. He doesn't want to talk about his record, his 12 years in Washington, D.C.," said Wright. "Jim Matheson is desperate because Mia Love has a lot of momentum right now and he's never been in a race like this before."

Democrat Matheson and Republican Love are fighting to become the first U.S. House member to represent Utah's newly created 4th Congressional District. Matheson currently represents the 2nd Congressional District.

Love's campaign sent a mailer to Republican delegates before the state convention in April laying out her initial plan to cut $750 billion from the federal budget. That included eliminating subsidized college loans, Pell grants, capping Medicaid spending and eliminating DOJ grants.

Wright said Matheson is attacking a preliminary plan that was a starting point for dialogue — although Love's mailer said it was an initial plan for cuts and "much more will need to be done" to balance the budget.

Those grants have been used to replace officers' handguns, purchase surveillance and communication equipment, investigate and prosecute child abuse and operate the state's sex offender registry.

"I have no idea why someone would take this position," Matheson said. "It is so far outside the mainstream."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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