Utah may have a few challenges, but nothing to keep the state from being the best place to live, raise a family, and to do business, says Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
“The state of the state is strong,” said the governor in his annual state of the state address delivered to the Utah Legislature last night.
Herbert touted statistics like 70,000 new jobs since he announced a goal to create 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days two years ago. He went on to mention that the state’s unemployment rate recently dropped to 4.1 percent — the fourth-lowest in the nation — and Utah also reportedly has the fourth-most diverse economy in the country.
After the governor’s speech, Erik Gumbrecht, Tooele County Republican Party chairman said, “Overall, it sounds like the state’s economy seems to be picking up and that’s bound to affect us out here in Tooele, either directly through economic development here in the county, or more jobs available to some of our displaced workers in other places along the Wasatch Front as the state’s economy grows.”
Tooele County Democratic party leaders were pleased to hear the governor trumpet the state’s role in job creation.
“Unlike our local Republican leaders, who have lamented that it is not the government’s role to create jobs, it was refreshing to hear the governor’s specific acknowledgment of the government’s role in job creation endeavors,” said Gillian Young, Tooele County Democratic Party chairman.
Herbert highlighted three challenges the state faces: population growth, asserting its right as a sovereign state, and continued economic expansion.
The state’s population is expected to double in the next 35 years, impacting education, availability of water, air quality, and the state’s criminal justice system, said Young.
To address education issues, Herbert announced initiatives to increase funding for science, technology, engineering, and math education programs. Money to increase the number of high school counselors and also teacher compensation are included in the proposed budget, he said.
Young agrees that teachers should be better compensated.
“We rely on our teachers, who, certainly, should receive compensation commensurate to their skills and dedication,” she said.
Herbert listed his clean air initiatives, which included requiring industries to install new technology to reduce emissions, a prohibition of idling in state vehicles, a reduction in state travel, and providing transit passes to state employees.
The state will step up the transition to cleaner gasoline and start replacing older school busses and state vehicles with lower-emission models, he said.
Herbert also called on the state Air Quality Board to limit wood burning in non-attainment areas during the entire inversion season.
Local Republicans are pleased with Herbert’s steps to clean Utah’s air.
“It is good to see the governor taking a proactive stand with air quality,” Gumbrecht said.
Local Democrats are more skeptical.
“We are concerned that Governor Herbert’s recent relaxing of existing state air quality regulations has and will continue to exacerbate our state’s already unhealthy air,” said Young.
The state’s sovereign power is being challenged by the federal government in areas such as marriage, Medicaid, the management of public lands, and health care, according to Herbert.
“In Utah, we understand state sovereignty, and we will do everything in our power to represent the will of the people while respecting the democratic and judicial processes,” he said. “Let me be clear that while I support traditional marriage and will continue to defend Amendment 3, there is no place in our society for hatred and bigotry.”
Young agrees with Herbert’s stand on tolerance.
“We believe in marriage equality, and reaffirm the governor’s position that there is no place in our society for hatred and bigotry,” said Young.
Herbert referred to the Affordable Health Care Act as “flawed” and said he looks forward to working with the Legislature to create a Utah model for fixing the safety net for the poor.
Tooele County Democrats do not find the ACA to be flawed and look forward to the assistance provided by an expanded Medicaid program, according to Young.
“We firmly hold that ready access to affordable health care is a right of every citizen,” she said.
In order to create more and higher-quality jobs, Herbert announced a goal to increase exports by $9 billion by the end of 2015. That will be accomplished by outreach to small and big businesses along the Wasatch front and in rural Utah.
“Utah will continue to provide ‘life elevated,’” said Herbert. “I have no doubt we will overcome our challenges.”