ST. GEORGE – In his annual state of the state address before the Utah Legislature, Gov. Gary Herbert said “the state of our state is truly exceptional.” The state has a robust economy recognized as being one the best in the nation, he said, and over 43,000 new jobs were created last year.
While the job growth and economy are positive, the governor said there is much to be done over the next four years. He spoke to creating a more job-ready workforce though the creation of a new education program, possible changes to the state’s alcohol policy, support for internet sales tax and tax reform and growing jobs across rural Utah, among other items.
“I believe that government regulations are designed to level playing fields and to protect the public,” Herbert said. “The results have been strong, as attested by Utah’s low DUI fatalities, our low underage consumption, our low binge drinking rate and our enviable public safety record. But there is room for improvement.”
Herbert expressed support for proposed legislation expected to be introduced next week by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. The bill seeks to remove the often-maligned “Zion Curtain” from restaurants, a requirement that a barrier separate areas where alcohol is stored or dispensed from the view and access of patrons.
Wilson told Fox 13 News Tuesday that the fall of the Zion Curtain would be a trade-off that could include an increase in liquor prices, among other measures.
“I know that many in the media have focused narrowly on the issue of dispensing restrictions — but that would be merely one aspect of this updating,” Herbert said.
“I believe we can do this without stigmatizing how responsible adults purchase and consume alcoholic drinks in dining establishments,” he said, “and I believe we can do this without blurring the important distinction between restaurants and bars.”
Though he did not mention the Our School Now movement by name, which supports raising income taxes for increased education spending, Herbert said he doesn’t believe altering the state’s tax code could adversely affect the economy.
“Failure to take into account how tax rates affect business investment won’t help us make good policy decisions,” he said.
The governor also announced the “Talent Ready Utah” resource, which will build pathways between schools and businesses by providing students with internships and real-world training as they prepare for the workforce.
“And we anticipate that Talent Ready Utah will help fill 40,000 new high-skill, high-paying jobs over the next four years,” Herbert said.
“Utah has required payment of a use tax on out-of-state purchases since 1937,” Herbert said, referring to the millions of dollars the state loses in tax revenue due to online sales. It is estimated by state officials that Utah loses between $150 million and $200 million and rising in unpaid sales tax per year from internet sales.
The state government was recently able to negotiate with massive online retailer Amazon to collect internet sales tax and Herbert wants legislators to make that uniform for all internet sales.
The governor also called for a review of the state’s tax exemptions and credits.
“I also urge a thorough legislative review of each and every tax exemption and tax credit to examine whether it has outlived its usefulness,” Herbert said. “That means making our taxes fairer by eliminating loopholes and broadening the base.”
Though the state economy is strong, Herbert said, he wants to sees the 25 counties outside of the Wasatch Front reap the benefits of it as well. And while tourism is touted a big part of the economy – an $8.1 billion part of it – it is only one part of the puzzle, he said.
He wants to create 25,000 jobs across the 25 counties over the next four years, Herbert said, and will work with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the Rural Partnership Board to accomplish that goal.
Utah will look at investing the $35 million it is receiving from the Volkswagen lawsuit settlement in improving diesel engine technology. Much of the concern over Utah’s air quality relates to the inversion that tends to form and hang over valleys in northern Utah during winter.
Herbert said the state has dropped emissions by 30 percent and has engaged in measures to decrease air pollution. This has included expanding public transit systems, getting refineries to invest in emission-control technologies and becoming one of the Top 10 states for electric vehicle use and No. 1 for compressed natural gas infrastructure.
Optimism for new U.S. administration
Herbert said he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration last week – though didn’t mention Trump by name – and said:
I can attest that if there is one message that is clear from the new administration it is that power will be returned to the people and to the states. I am confident that the new administration and Congress, working with the states, will enact major reforms that will enable us as a state to gain greater control and management over education, transportation, healthcare, natural resources, and our public lands.
- Text of the address in its entirety: 2017 State of the State Address – Gov. Gary Herbert
- Talent Ready Utah
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