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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s 11th and final State of the State address on Wednesday celebrated Utah’s fantastic economy and strides in education, and called out to residents to thank them for their charity, hard work and kind-heartedness.
“It is your hopeful spirit and work ethic that make Utah the best place in the nation to live, to work, and to raise a family,” he said. “You are the main reason for our success. Thank you for all you do to make Utah great.”
The governor pointed to some notable economic achievements in Utah for which politicians, policymakers and residents can be proud, including a personal income growth rate of 7%, the second-highest in the nation, unemployment at an all-time low at 2.3% and the lowest state tax obligation in 27 years.
“I could go on, and on, and on, but you get the picture. The state of our state is, well, it’s just the best,” he said. “And by the way, Utah has led the way in the past. ... We’ve gathered here at the start of not just a new legislative session, but at the literal dawn of a new decade. Our quality of life has never been better. And our future has never been brighter!”
Afterward, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, praised the governor’s commitment to education, transportation infrastructure and air quality.
“Our economy is functioning at an all-time high, and it is due to the forward-thinking and collaborative spirit of Utah’s leaders and engaged citizens,” Adams said. “Our efforts are paying off. Utah is leading the way in economic development, education scores, infrastructure and upward mobility. I value the governor being closely aligned with the legislature in our shared desire to improve continually so our future is even better than it is today.”
It is your hopeful spirit and work ethic that make Utah the best place in the nation to live, to work, and to raise a family.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
In Herbert’s speech, the governor described how Utah’s pioneer ancestors made the tough and arduous journey to the Salt Lake Valley, planting crops along the way that they would not harvest and improving trails for those who would follow. In that same spirit, Herbert said a similar ethic is creating modern-day pioneers who are improving the state.
The governor singled out Mohammad Alsoudani, an Iraqi refugee who came to the United States six years ago. Now 23, he has graduated from high school, taken computer programming classes at the Refugee Education and Training Center, and is now making a six-figure salary.
“He is here with us tonight, along with other representatives of our refugee community — some of today’s modern pioneers,” Herbert said. “Mohammad’s success is impressive, but what I truly find remarkable about his story is that he now volunteers at the same Refugee Education and Training Center where he once studied. He is improving the trail for those who are coming after him.”
Herbert said refugees embody the same pioneering spirit that has defined Utah since 1847.
“Refugees then and now are an important thread that has been woven into the tapestry of our state and our lives. Please join with me in recognizing their contributions.”
That invitation invoked a rousing, prolonged standing ovation with whistles and cheers.
With Utah’s population expected reach 5.8 million people by 2065, Herbert also stressed it is incumbent on current residents to be pioneers, forging a trail for those who will follow.
“Our success has not been by luck, accident or serendipity. It has been by design, and it comes as the result of proper planning, and developing good policies that empower the private sector. “
Housing needs, transportation problems and challenges to air quality will all come with that growth, Herbert said, noting the actions of lawmakers over the next 40-plus days will be instrumental in the years to come.
As he spoke, Herbert noted he was standing below the Latin words “Vox Populi,” which means the voice of the people.
That voice of the people is why tax reform was repealed, but Herbert said that doesn’t mean there aren’t other solutions to be reached that are fair and equitable.
“I know we can do that.”
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said in reaction to Herbert’s address that the death of sales tax reform shows the will of the people must be listened to.
“In the past year Democrats have continued to fight on the side of the people of this state defending their right to their constitutionally guaranteed political power. When voters used their authority to fully expand Medicaid in order to provide affordable access to quality health care for thousands of Utahns, we listened,” King said.
“When voters used that same power to make medical cannabis legal, we listened. And just last month when the state’s leaders passed a tax bill that increased the sales tax on food and slashed 160 million dollars from our education fund, we again listened to the people of this state and we all voted no,” King said.
Tax reform, added Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, was a clarion call for action that all lawmakers should acknowledge.
“In the past month we have seen voters turn out in force to sign the petition demanding the referendum to have your say on the tax bill passed in special session. In every part of the state you have raised your voices and demanded to be heard,” Mayne said. “While the state’s leaders have decided to repeal the tax bill, the voters should neither back down nor lower their guard.”
Herbert in his remarks emphasized some of his key budget recommendations, including putting more money into mass transit to boost its efficiency and adding more electric vehicle infrastructure to encourage the adoption of more alternative fuel vehicles.
“This $100 million investment in our transportation and mass transit is a necessary step toward improving the air that we breathe.”
Those type of investments, he stressed, will improve the path for those who follow.
Herbert then turned a bit retrospective.
“Exactly 10 years ago I stood here and delivered my first State of the State address. Next year, someone else will take my place,” he said. “It’s been an amazing decade. We’ve had a great run together.”
Herbert paused after becoming a bit emotional, but quickly gathered his composure.
“Ten years ago on this same occasion, I said that we could find unlimited possibilities of what we could accomplish through creating unprecedented partnerships,” he said. “Tonight, as I look out at you, at the dawn of a new decade, I am in awe of the infinite possibilities that lie ahead of us, the people of Utah.”