ST. GEORGE – During the State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah faced three primary challenges: growth, asserting state sovereignty, and expanding the economy.
Herbert started the address by recognizing the lieutenant governor’s officer and the state legislature in their recent investigations in campaign and election law violations, referring to the questions raised by the investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow.
“We must continue to require ongoing review of our election laws to ensure strict compliance,” Herbert said.
The governor also said Utah’s economy is growing, and in the right way. Utah has the fourth-most diversified economy in the nation, and that thanks to that, people don’t have to leave the state to get a high-paying job.
“Utah’s strong economy means if your son wants to work for Goldman Sachs, he doesn’t have to go to New York City; he can stay here in Salt Lake City,” Herbert said. “If your daughter wants to work for Adobe or eBay, she doesn’t have to go to Silicon Valley; she can go to the Silicon Slopes of Lehi and Draper. And if you want to work in cutting-edge manufacturing, you don’t have to go to Washington State; you can go to Washington County.”
The first major challenge to the state is population growth, Herbert said. Utah is the second-fastest growing state in the nation. Currently 2.9 million people live in Utah. In 35 years that number is expected to double.
Among the challenges that come with growth is a fast-growing student population. Herbert said there is legislation in the works to provide “report cards” intended to help parents and educators see where the schools are doing well and where they may need to improve. A new campaign focusing on STEM education, that is science, technology, engineering and math, will center on schools preparing students for high-tech, high-quality jobs, the governor said.
“Of course, teachers have the critical role of educating our children in the classroom,” he said. “While we cannot thank them enough, we can and should pay them more. Because of our success in growing the economy in challenging times, my budget contains an additional $61.6 million to increase teacher compensation, the largest increase since 2008.”
Herbert also called for the state tree, currently the Colorado Blue Spruce, to be changed to the Aspen. Legislation is already in the works to achieve this, he said.
Other challenges of population growth deal with pollution. Herbert announced that cleaner burning gasoline and new-generation, lower-emission cars would begin to be brought into the state to help combat pollution, most notably the northern Utah inversion, in the state. Among other measures, he has asked wood burning be limited in the state during the inversion season.
“The fact is, burning one log for an hour is the equivalent to driving an automobile from Salt Lake to St. George and back again,” Herbert said.
As part of the effort to clean the air, the governor announced a commitment to begin immediately replacing older school buses and state vehicles with lower-emission models — a move he understands comes with a price tag.
He also spoke to reviewing and improving the state’s justice system.
“I have asked for a full review of our current system to develop a plan to reduce recidivism, maximize offenders’ success in becoming law-abiding citizens, and provide judges with the tools they need to accomplish these goals,” he said. “The prison gates through which people re-enter society must be a permanent exit, and not just a revolving door.”
Herbert said Utah must find solutions to Utah issues, and not necessarily be led by overreaching federal dictates.
“Whether the issue is marriage, Medicaid or management of our public lands, our right to find Utah solutions to Utah issues is being hindered by federal overreach,” he said.
On the subject of marriage, Herbert said, “Let me be clear that while I support traditional marriage and will continue to defend Amendment 3, there is no place in our society for hatred and bigotry …. Most importantly, let us all remember that although these issues may be controversial, they need not be contentious.”
Herbert said that through a flaw in the Affordable Care Act, approximately 60,000 Utahns living below the poverty line are given less through Medicaid then those living above it. “This is not fair, and it is not right.” he said.
“Assisting the poor in our state is a moral obligation that must be addressed. I look forward to working with you in the Legislature to create a Utah model for fixing this hole in the safety net – one that is based on four principles: first, those who can work, do work; second, support private markets; third, maximize state flexibility in administering federal programs; and fourth, serve the best interest of the Utah taxpayer.
“We did not create the problem, but we can and must find a Utah solution.”
Herbert also touched on public lands.
“More effective management of our public lands is also critical to our state. At no time was this more evident than during the federal government shutdown. Our national parks were closed, tourists were turned away and the livelihoods of Utah business owners were put in peril. Yet we were told by many in Washington there was nothing we could do to solve this problem.
“We do a lot of things well in Utah, but ‘doing nothing’ is not one of them. I was determined to open the parks, and I told Interior Secretary Sally Jewel we simply had to find a way – and that’s exactly what we did. It took a little common sense and a lot of hard work. It took people of good will, including Representative Brad Dee, and legislators on both sides of the aisle working together to find the solution.
“As the opening of our national parks proved, Utah is in the best position to optimize the use of our public lands.”
Continuing to expand the economy
Herbert talked on the state economy next, and announced he has set a goal to increase state exports to $9 billion by the end of 2015.
“We will accomplish this goal with continued outreach to big businesses as well as smaller start-ups – businesses along the Wasatch Front as well as those in rural Utah,” he said.
There is a reason thousands of small businesses owners choose to set up in Utah, a reason Utah is the most requested transfer state for Oracle employees, and Boeing calls its Utah workers the “Can Do Team,” Herbert said.
“The reason is not because we don’t have challenges; the reason is because we know how to overcome them. So yes, we face the challenge of a growing student population. But we are solving it, and as we do, we will secure the youngest and best-educated workforce in the nation. And yes, we face the challenge of protecting our water supply and cleaning our air. But we are solving it, and as we do, Utah will continue to provide ‘Life Elevated’ for our children and our grandchildren”
“The state of our state is strong,” Herbert said. “As I am committed to making it even stronger.”
Herbert also made a second reference to the new-to-be-state-tree, the Aspen, which prompted the following Twitter response from Robert Gehrke, of the Salt Lake Tribune: “More love for the Aspen in the Gov’s State of State. Clearly Herbert is in the pocket of Big Aspen.”
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