Utah has some mountains to climb.
Gov. Gary Herbert delivered his state of the state address from the House chambers at Utah’s capitol building last night.
Addressing legislators and other leaders that gathered to hear his traditional annual address, Herbert lauded Utah’s progress, but cautioned that there is still work to be done or some mountains to climb.
“We need to get on top of intergenerational poverty, teen suicide, homelessness and addiction,” he said.
Despite the challenge ahead, “the state of our state is truly exceptional,” Herbert said, and “the height that Utah’s economy now occupies is remarkable.”
Last year Utah’s economy grew by 43,000 jobs, he said.
Over the next four years Herbert wants to make sure the state’s economic growth is shared with Utah’s rural communities.
“Tonight, I would like us to unite behind a goal of creating 25,000 new jobs in the 25 counties off the Wasatch Front over the next four years,” he said. “Reaching that goal will require unprecedented partnerships to grow and diversify the economy in rural Utah.”
Educational excellence is one of the most important summits ahead of Utah, according to Herbert.
“I am gratified by our progress, but we still have work to do,” Herbert said about the state of Utah’s public education.
He discussed the Pathways model, which is a program that partners schools, students, and business in an effort to provide students with training, internships, and a head start on entering the workforce. Afterward, Herbert announced a new initiative.
“I am pleased to announce tonight a major collaboration called Talent Ready Utah that will accelerate these mutually reinforcing successes,” he said. “Talent Ready Utah will recruit hundreds of businesses across Utah to partner with and invest in local education. And we anticipate that Talent Ready Utah will help fill 40,000 new high-skill, high-paying jobs over the next four years.”
Recognizing a need to invest more money in education, Herbert cautioned against raising taxes for education.
“I am very concerned about altering our tax policies in any way that could damage our robust economic engine,” he said. “In fact, the very best way to ensure ongoing growth of education funding is to continue to grow our economy.”
Herbert urged the reexamination of income tax credits and sales tax exemptions, including the collection of use tax on out of state purchases.
“We need to keep our tax system balanced and competitive while making it fairer and more inclusive,” he said.
Herbert also praised legislative work to evaluate the state’s alcohol polices. He said he supports efforts to focus alcohol policies on proven methods to reduce underage drinking, alcohol abuse and impaired driving.
While not specifically mentioning the “Zions Wall,” the required barrier between alcoholic beverage preparation and the public, Herbert said, “I believe we can do this without stigmatizing how responsible adults purchase and consume alcoholic drinks in dining establishments.”
He said the state has made significant strides in cleaning the state’s air, including a 30 percent reduction in emissions between 2002 and 2014. The governor outlined additional steps the state can take to clean Utah’s air.
Those steps include continuing to fast-track the arrival of cleaner fuel and cleaner cars, encouraging people to drive less and conserve more, and using $35 million from the Volkswagen settlement to improve air quality.
“We shouldn’t have to climb to a summit in order to breathe clean air,” Herbert said.
The governor closed his address by inviting all Utahns to join him on the assault on Utah’s summits.
“I am exhilarated by the challenge because I have never been more optimistic about Utah’s prospects for success,” he said. “I invite all of you to join with me in this effort. May God bless us as we, together, climb ever higher.”