Salt Lake City—Gov. Gary Herbert praised Utah’s economy and the strides made in education funding and rates in his State of the State address Wednesday night, while warning there is still work left to do in other areas—especially in education and the economy in the state’s rural areas, as well as air quality.
“The state of our state is strong, and I think most of us would say the state of our state is outstanding. That being said, I believe that we can do even better,” he said.
Herbert applauded the economy, especially how well the state weathered and recovered from the Great Recession several years ago. Since that time, 219,000 jobs have been added statewide—40,000 in the last year—and unemployment has sunk from 8 percent to 3.5 percent. Utah has racked up accolades from national organizations and publications, and is one of only nine states to have earned and preserved a AAA bond rating.
However, he said, there’s still room for the economy to grow, particularly in the rural areas of the state. He cited upcoming projects in Iron and Beaver Counties, as well as Sanpete County native Roland Christensen, who holds 38 patents and has started four successful businesses. The partnership between government providing infrastructure for business opportunities and entrepreneurs making use of them is vital, Herbert said.
“While developing this kind of basic infrastructure is the proper role of government, make no mistake, ultimately it is our small businesses and large businesses and the tens of thousands of hardworking, productive Utah workers who create Utah’s economic success, and not the government,” Herbert said. “To Utahns everywhere, whether you live in Blanding or Bear River, Parowan or Plain City, I pledge to you tonight that we will not rest until all 29 counties and all 245 cities and towns in our state are full participants in Utah’s tremendous economic success.”
Even in areas of prosperity and opportunity, Herbert said access to education is critical to make sure all Utahns have the chance to become self-reliant and lend their talents back to the community. When Herbert took office, he said, one of four high school students did not graduate from high school. Because of efforts to raise that number, the rate has grown to 84 percent. Herbert said his new goal for the next four years is to raise the rate to 90 percent. Over the past four years, the Legislature has given $1.3 billion in new funding to education efforts, $512 million in the last year.
Education and a strong economy are particularly important considering the population boom Utah is and will be experiencing—the three millionth Utahn was born last year. Other key issues the larger population brings to the forefront is Utah’s frequently poor air quality and the scarcity of water. Over the last 10 years, emissions have been cut 35 percent, he said, but more needs to be done.
“One thing is for certain—environmental challenges won’t be solved with hyperbole or misinformation. We must invest our limited resources in programs and technology that will actually work, not just rhetoric that ignores common sense,” he said.
Herbert said he was continuing to push for refineries to produce cleaner Tier 3 gasoline, noting that Tesoro has already agreed to the standard.
He also urged the Legislature to work together to find a solution to the health care crisis.
“It is time to find a solution. This problem is not going to go away. This is too important an issue to ignore. Too many Utahns work hard and still have no healthcare coverage,” he said. “I promise that I will work with you to continue providing constructive, practical solutions to every problem and every challenge that we face regardless of who created them, and I know that you want to do the same thing. No matter what issues we face, the states can and do find the best solutions, not the federal government. On this issue of healthcare, let this be the session when Utah leads the way in finding the right state solution.”
In addition, he asked lawmakers to take a careful look at the state code and find lines that needed to be updated or eliminated. Herbert noted that he has eliminated 368 state regulations, and has gone through every executive order issued since Utah’s statehood and will repeal 52 he feels are no longer applicable.
Herbert also recognized former governors Norm Bangerter and Olene Walker, who died in the last year, for their efforts in helping build a strong state, citing Bangerter’s efforts to improve education and Walker’s role in creating a now-$528 million Rainy Day Fund. He recognized United Police Department Officer Doug Barney, who was killed in the line of duty Jan. 17, as well. The outpouring of community support for Barney’s family, and the respect and gratitude shown by residents along the officer’s 50-mile motorcade funeral procession route, gave Herbert pause, he said.
“I realized the state of our state is strong because the state of our people has never been stronger. As Utahns, you are united, you are compassionate, you are inspiring, you are extraordinary,” he said. “I am proud to be a part of this great state. I am proud to be a Utahn. It is indeed an honor for all of us to serve.”
The full State of the State address can be viewed here.