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Looming education cuts will shrink public access to community colleges, trigger more layoffs and could deprive Utah classrooms of crucial resources, officials told legislative appropriations subcommittees Wednesday.

Driving the point home, Salt Lake Community College announced it is pulling out of its leased Sandy location, which serves 3,500 students a semester. And officials warned that Utah's two rural community colleges face potential closure if lawmakers exact a 5 percent cut next fiscal year.

"It is very likely that the Board of Regents will have to declare a financial emergency for one or more institutions, damaging our state's reputation for its commitment to education which has its own set of long-term consequences," Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg wrote in letter to appropriations subcommittee members.

Lawmakers met Wednesday to come up with recommendations for how to reduce state budget by 4 percent in fiscal year 2010, which began last July, in the face of economic hurdles.

Gov. Gary Herbert said while the Legislature is looking at deeper cuts than he proposed in his budget, he thinks in the end they will see eye-to-eye.

"I think it's not necessary to have additional cuts, and I think we can do it all without a tax increase," Herbert said. "I believe as they go through that process, at the end of the day, they're going to come to the same conclusions I have."

Rep. Ron Bigelow, House chairman of the budget committee, said he expects the recommended cuts will be adopted pretty much as submitted. He said that doesn't prevent legislators from going back and restoring some funding if the cuts are deemed too deep or tax revenues turn out to exceed expectations.

Here's a roundup of what lawmakers heard or proposed Wednesday related to department budgets:

Public education » Public education has already been trimmed by more than 5 percent this school year. A further 4 percent reduction would mean a $84.5 million cut to K-12 schools and education programs.

Because the proposed cut would come mid-year, it will feel like an 8 percent cut because it would be spread over fewer months, said Larry Shumway, state superintendent. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended that if that 4 percent needs to be cut this year, districts be allowed to decide specifics.

The Utah State Office of Education, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and programs such as UPSTART, an at-home software program for preschoolers, and the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program would also face the 4 percent cuts.

Lawmakers recommended that all those programs be reduced equally if cuts must be made and that districts be allowed flexibility to transfer money between some funds. The subcommittee also, however, included with their recommendations a plea that schools not face further cuts at all this school year.


Higher education » Cuts have already resulted in the elimination of 900 positions, salary reductions, "soft" enrollment caps, increased student-advisor ratios, delayed maintenance and upgrades, and a weakening of the state's research enterprise, university presidents told lawmakers last week.

A 4 percent cut this fiscal year would translate into another $25.6 million, which couldn't be made up by tuition increases or scholarship reductions.

Tuition rose 9 percent this year, and Sederburg predicted it will jump by that much again this fall, perhaps more if lawmakers inflict a proposed 5 percent cut next year.

A 5 percent reduction would jeopardize the existence of the College of Eastern Utah, with campuses in Price and Blanding, Sederburg said. Snow College in Ephraim could also be at risk.

Poised for a 16 percent enrollment increase this semester, SLCC will abandoned its Sandy Center, 830 E. 9400 South where it spends $400,000 a year leasing 29,000 square feet. Course offerings will be moved to SLCC's Miller campus in Sandy, and Highland Center, 3760 S. Highland Drive.


Health » Pregnant women over 21 who qualify for Medicaid may not receive dental or vision services anymore under a 4 percent -- or $13 million -- cut. They are just one example of a vulnerable group who may be hard hit by cuts that Democratic lawmakers argued should be backfilled with money from the Medicaid Restricted Account or other pots of money.


Human Services » If lawmakers approve the current 2010 budget proposal, a host of state programs serving everyone from the mentally ill to the elderly would be cut by an additional 0.75 percent.

Disabled Utahns would escape that across-the-board cut because lawmakers opted to use dollars in a special trust fund to protect them. That same fund will be depleted by about $1.7 million to help keep disabilities programs intact and soften any further cuts throughout the department.

The 0.75 percent one-time cut means a loss of $731,500 to the Division of Child and Family Services, more than half of which will come from a reduction in investigators and case managers. There will be less money for adoption assistance, support services and domestic violence services.

Reporters Robert Gehrke, Brooke Adams, Julia Lyon and Lisa Rosetta contributed to this story.

What's next?

The legislature's appropriations subcommittees will forward their recommendations to the body's main budget committee, which will make decisions to be voted on by all lawmakers.

What's next?

The legislature's appropriations subcommittees will forward their recommendations to the body's main budget committee, which will make decisions to be voted on by all lawmakers.