Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivered the 2019 State of the State address to the Utah Legislature Wednesday, Jan. 30, where he addressed tax reform, education, air quality and sustainable growth.
Utah faced drought, was ravaged by wildfires and lost five officers in the line of duty in 2018. Herbert recognized the losses of West Valley code officer Jill Robinson, Draper Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, National Guard Major and North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, South Salt Lake police officer David Romrell and Provo police officer Joseph Shinners. He recognized their families and thanked them for their sacrifices to keep Utah safe.
Despite the challenges of 2018, Herbert remained positive and spoke about the progress the state has made since last year.
“Look how far we have come,” Herbert said. “With positive job growth in every sector, Utah is now the healthiest and most diverse economy in the nation.”
The Legislature is looking for ways to sustain rapid growth because of the growing economy, and according to Herbert, Utah’s limiting factors are affordable housing, air quality and water.
“I can only address a few of these complex challenges tonight, but they are all worthy of our best deliberations over the next 42 days,” Herbert said.
Herbert announced the Legislature’s responsibility to spend over a billion dollar surplus due to the hard work of Utah citizens and the decisions of legislators to wisely spend tax dollars.
“With this surplus, let’s pay down some debt and invest in efforts that will pay future dividends. Let’s prioritize the surplus toward our biggest challenges,” Herbert said.
The governor proposed a $225 million sales tax cut — the largest tax cut in Utah’s history — to thank citizens for creating the surplus.
Herbert also announced plans to modernize Utah’s tax code, making it his top legislative priority. Herbert cited the tax on buggy whips, while Uber and Lyft remain tax exempt.
Herbert said he is concerned with the narrowing tax base and what it means for the future government systems it funds, like public courts and Medicaid.
“If the sales tax base of statewide economic activity were represented by a group of ten friends who meet at a restaurant for dinner, when the bill came in 1980, seven of the ten helped picked up the tab. But today, when the bill comes only four pay for it and six of them walk away without paying a dime,” Herbert said. “If these trends continue, it is absolutely unsustainable.”
Herbert set education as the state’s highest budget priority. With graduation rates up 11 percent since Herbert took office, he said he is eager to keep the trend going.
“I believe, and the people of Utah believe, and I know that you also believe, that there is no better investment that we can make than in our Utah students,” Herbert said.
The Legislature set a goal of investing an additional $1 billion into the state public education fund, which he says will fund a 4 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit.
He said the budget increase will also contribute to counseling and mental health services in schools and provide facility upgrades. According to Herbert, the budget increase will more than cover the growth of new students. The governor also announced the Legislature will allocate a one time $50 million deposit into a fund for financially disadvantaged college students to improve accessibility.
Herbert warned students to be wary of the increasing fascination with socialism, saying tyranny and poverty follow economic systems in which states control production, bureaucrats allocate resources and governments pick the winners and the losers.
“That is why I support Representative Jefferson Moss’s bill to strengthen the curriculum in our required financial literacy course to include instruction on the core economic principles that have given us our freedom and our prosperity,” Herbert said.
Addressing air quality concerns, Herbert announced his goals to provide 300 electric vehicle charges for public use and 800 charging stations at private businesses to incentivize accessibility for low-emission vehicles.
Combined with incentives to replace wood-burning stoves, increase public transportation use and replace old vehicles and machinery with battery-powered options, Utah will reduce dangerous pollutants in the atmosphere by 14,000 tons, Herbert said.
To close, Herbert mentioned the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Acknowledging the many forgotten Irish immigrants, underpaid Chinese, freed slaves and exiled Mormons that worked on the project, Herbert shared three lessons.
“First, we can and we should do more to protect the nameless, the outcast and the vulnerable. Second, even in times of deep division and discord, even when some naysayers are betting against us, great things can be envisioned and can be accomplished. And finally, although we come from diverse backgrounds and experience, we can work side-by-side, sunup to sundown, with the spirit of cooperation to lay a foundation for our future prosperity,” Herbert said.