ST. GEORGE — In his final State of the State address, Gov. Gary Herbert declared Utah to be “just the best” while also highlighting new policy initiatives.
“For those who are keeping score, this is my 11th and final State of the State address, and I give this speech tonight with renewed hope and optimism for Utah’s future,” Herbert said.
Herbert is in the final year of his third term as Utah’s governor and chose not to seek reelection. While address the Legislature, the Republican governor joked about how many gubernatorial candidates seemed eager to be the one to give the next State of the State speech.
In his opening remarks, Herbert praised the people of Utah and their effort for helping to make the state one of the best in America.
“You are a kindhearted people. You do good work wherever you live,” he said. “It’s your hard work that helps bolster our economy. It’s your kindness and service that make us the most charitable state in the nation. … It is your hopeful spirit and work ethic that makes Utah the best place in the nation to live, to work and to raise a family. You are the main reason for our success.”
Herbert stated that he could say that the state of the state was excellent, but that would be a gross understatement, adding that Utah is thriving and in the best economic shape it has ever been in the state’s history.
Herbert shared other accolades, such as Utah having the largest middle class in America, growth in personal income by 7% annually and an increase in household income to the 7th highest in the nation.
He also touted the state’s education system, which has improved graduation results over 11% since he took office. There has also been great success in higher education, the governor said.
“I could go on and on and on, but you get the picture,” Herbert said. The state of our state is, well, we’re just the best.”
As the state is projected to have a population of nearly 6 million by 2065 – 500,000 of which is estimated to be in Washington County – Herbert said there are challenges and opportunities that must be met in order to prepare for that growth.
“More people will mean we need more housing, so how do we ensure housing affordability?” he said.
“More people will drive more cars and create more traffic. So what changes will need to be made to avoid California-like gridlock in traffic and time-consuming commutes? More cars will create the potential for added pollution. So how do we protect the air that we breathe?”
Concerning air pollution, Herbert said that has decreased in the state by 30% over the last decade. He called for more use of Tier 3 gas in the state in order to cut back on car emissions, while also declaring $100 million has been set aside by the state for transportation and public transit infrastructure.
“We need to boldly re-imagine our roads to safely accommodate cars, mass transit, bikes, pedestrians and even those scooters,” he said. “We should make commuting by transit as easy as commuting by car.”
As for the pressures on housing that an increasing population has brought on, Herbert said some creative thinking needs to be done in order to better address the issue, along with the reworking of area land use zoning laws. He said:
It’s time to consider making our land use zoning laws and building codes more responsive to our growing population and market needs when it comes to housing affordability. This means we need to re-imagine what our communities and houses will look like in the future.
By thinking creatively and working in collaboration with our cities and counties, we can help change the landscape of our housing market and help design neighborhoods that our children and grandchildren will want to live in – and just as importantly, that they can afford to live in. This will be difficult, but it is needful, and it will be worth the effort.
The governor said decisions made during the current legislative session will help to address those concerns and others, yet they must also be made with input from the people.
“The voice of the people is an essential part of representative government,” he said, adding it was the reason the tax reform bill that passed in December was subsequently repealed. Only a handful of people in the legislative chambers clapped at the mention of the bill’s demise.
Tax modernization is still needed so the state will have sustainable funding for education, Medicaid and core government services, Herbert said, adding that further discussion needs to be had with the people of Utah on the matter.
“We need to improve the dialogue. We need to build consensus, and we need to take the time to find solutions that are fair and equitable and that will serve the best interests and the long-term needs of the people. I know we can do that,” he said.
Concerning rural Utah, the governor said the state is on the way to surpassing a goal of created 25,000 new jobs in rural counties by the end of the year. This includes the use of programs like the Utah Rural Online Initiative and creating broadband internet infrastructure where none currently exists.
In education, Herbert said $2.6 billion has been invested in education of the last nine years with the approval of state’s 2020 budget. He also thanked the efforts of teachers, parents and others for their “commitment to education.”
“I realize that providing the best education possible to our students is not only about the dollars spent but also about the people who are teaching our children,” the governor said.
He also praised legislative efforts in getting counselors into more schools.
In his closing remarks, Herbert said to make 2020 the best year for everyone in the state. He also become a little emotional as he reflected on his time as governor.
“Next year, someone else will stand here in my place,” he said. “It has been an amazing decade. We’ve had a great run together.”
A transcript of the 2020 State of the State address can be found here.
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