By Miranda Collette
SALT LAKE CITY — At Gov. Gary Herbert’s State of the State Address Wednesday night, it was all handshakes and smiles until exactly 6:30 p.m. when Herbert got down to business discussing Utah’s expanding economy, education and air quality.
After the governor welcomed everyone to the Capitol, Herbert wasted no time citing statistics about the positive changes he made in 2013.
“So far, nearly 70,000 jobs have been created in the private sector and our unemployment rate just dropped to 4.1 percent, the fourth-lowest in the nation.” Herbert said.
He continued to emphasize Utah’s growing economy by making the point that Utah works hard to make the most out of every taxpayer’s dollar, so that taxpayers’ money won’t be wasted.
The success the governor has had in Utah is something to be commemorated, but the audience settled down as Herbert began addressing his plans for facing the future.
Herbert said that “it is time to branch out and turn over a new leaf” by working to solve three main challenges Utah faces, including: Utah’s growing population, asserting Utah’s rightful role as a sovereign state and continuing to expand the sates economy.
According to Herbert, Utah is the second-fastest growing state in the nation, with a current population of 2.9 million people which is expected to double within the next 35 years. These growing numbers also means more a growing demand for educational funding.
Herbert plans to designate $2 million of his budget to improve high school career counseling and an additional $61.6 million to teachers, the largest increase since 2008. He hopes that these changes will mean reaching his goal of awarding 66 percent of adult Utahans a degree or post-secondary certificate by 2020.
Sen. Pat Jones, a democrat from Salt Lake County, said that this contribution to keep the best teachers around is merely, “a drop in the bucket… a lot of that goes into their benefits, so its eaten up that way.”
Herbert went on to address another growth related challenge, air quality. He broke down his plan to address this issue by discussing the steps he plans to take in the future to improve Utah’s foul air:
- Utilize the “Clean Air Action Team” which he recently created to make scientific recommendation and decisions regarding air quality.
- Transition to Tier 3 gasoline, which contains less metallic additives and improves engine performance, and promote use of the next generation of lower-emission vehicles — as nearly 60 percent of pollution during the inversion comes from tailpipes.
- Limit wood burning, which causes 5 percent of the problem, during the entire inversion season.
Herbert recognized that these changes mean spending more money. However, he said, “I’m convinced the benefits to our economy, to our communities and most importantly, to our public health, will justify the costs.“
A spokesperson for the Democrats, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, said they could come to an agreement with the governor on this air quality issue.
“I think we can make a difference if we pass meaningful, significant legislation. . . These are not free bills, but on the other hand they are not as expensive as not cleaning up the air,” said Arent.
Herbert said, “Whether the issue is marriage, Medicaid or management of our public land … there is no place in our society for hatred and bigotry.”
The governor said he believes the best way to come to a solution, is by showing the federal government how Utah can maintain the qualities of civility and respect while working through disagreements.
The last challenge Herbert discussed was Utah’s role in continuing to expand the economy. The governor plans on increasing state exports by an additional $9 billion by the end of 2015. He also looks forward to the future with hopes of greater communications between big business and smaller start-ups, and the government.
Herbert has no doubt that Utah will overcome these challenges. Herbert closed his 25-minute speech with the following goal:
“Let us renew our commitment to the principles of good governance, of fiscal prudence and of individual responsibility to continue to make Utah the best place to live, the best place to raise a family and the best place to do business.”
A PDF form of Governors Herbert’s speech can be found at: http://www.utah.gov/governor/
See a word cloud of Herbert’s speech at capwestnews.org
Follow BYU’s legislative coverage at @capwestnews