Four of Utah’s leading gubernatorial candidates addressed the state’s top priorities at the Utah Foundation luncheon on Thursday, March 24.
Democratic candidates Vaughn Cook and Mike Weinholtz, Republican candidate John Johnson, and incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert took part in a panel discussing the top ten issues Utah voters are most concerned about.
For the 2016 year, the top three issues are healthcare, air quality and K-12 education.
Cook believes the growing concern about healthcare is centered around the increased price in healthcare premiums.
He is in favor of Medicaid expansion and believes Utah should take full advantage of the Obamacare system for those who can’t afford healthcare otherwise. “We should turn our heads to people who are less fortunate than we are,” he said.
Herbert said his Healthy Utah plan was better than Medicaid, and Utah should keep the money and develop its own state healthcare program.
Johnson agreed, saying Utah should not be dictated by federal government. “We should be working to expand on our own terms,” he said.
As someone who has spent 30 years working in healthcare, Weinholtz thinks the partial Medicaid expansion the legislature passed this year was at insult to all Utahns. “The legislature decided to cover the least amount of Utahns at the most expensive price,” he said.
This year, air quality made its way to the top of the list of concerns. Wienholtz said Utah needs to take the issue more seriously but believes it shouldn’t be at the expense of businesses. “We can clean up the air without harming business,” he said.
Cook said Utah should address the issue by spending time and money educating people about air quality. “We look at the polluters and realize that it’s you, it’s me, it’s our neighbors,” he said.
Herbert said Salt Lake City pollutes less per capita than almost any major city in America, but inversion is a reality for the state. He thinks Utah as a whole is making progress with the issue and said there the state has seen a 35 percent pollution reduction along the Wasatch front.
Education has always been one of the top three priorities in Utah. Herbert said Utah has put $1.8 billion of new money into education, but he doesn’t believe that raising taxes is the best answer to get more funding for schools.
Weinholtz agreed it was good Utah was increasing funding but thinks that it’s not enough. “We can’t have a good economy if we don’t have good education,” he said.
Johnson said the state needs to give more authority to local school districts and their teachers. “We don’t know where all of our education dollars go, and that’s no way to run a business and no way to run a state,” he said.
Cook said about 70 percent of Utahns would be fine with paying more taxes if they knew that the money was going into education. Cook said Utah needs to show more appreciation for teachers and that teacher salary is an important part in expanding education.