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SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert says he supports no tax hikes and no special protections for gay people. He gave those indications during his first monthly press conference Thursday.
Herbert inherits a host of challenges, from the on-going battle over gay rights to the state budget and an economy no Utah governor has had to faces in years.
Last month, Salt Lake City announced it was crafting an anti-discrimination ordinance to ban housing or employment discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Now, some lawmakers may want a new law to block it.
I'm reluctant for anybody to be put into a protected class.
Thursday, when was asked if sexuality should be a protected class, the governor said no.
"I think we need to not discriminate against people when it comes to civil rights issues. I'm reluctant for anybody to be put into a protected class," he said.
Then he was asked, "Even though the law protects against discrimination based on religion, race and ethnicity?"
He answered, "Well, where do you stop? That's the problem of going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blonds or people who are losing their hair a little bit, and there's a special classification that we put them in."
However, Herbert says people should treat each other with respect.
In Utah, it is legal to fire someone for being gay or transgender. The gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah has been trying to change state law for several years but has always been rebuffed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Last year, the group got Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman's support for extending some rights to gay people, although none of the bills it backed became law.
With a $700 million budget shortfall, Gov. Herbert says he opposes any tax hike, including on tobacco.
"I don't think that we need to think ‘Oh my gosh, the sky is falling. We need to raise taxes,' and then have the counterproductive measure of maybe stifling economic growth," he explained.
On the debate over the impacts of global warming, the governor is calling for a symposium on the issue.
A new report released Thursday by the Nature Conservancy finds Utah could be in the top 10 hardest hit states, potentially warming by more than 9 degrees by 2100, endangering water supplies and sharply increasing wildfire risk.
"Frankly going into the end of the year, I'd like to encourage that debate and bring together people on all sides of that issue and say, ‘Let's have it. Let's have a discussion and let's let the people decide,'" he said.
State leaders hope the economy, and therefore, the outlook for state tax revenues are beginning to improve. Herbert submits his proposed budget at the end of the year. Lawmakers convene in January.
Story compiled with information from John Daley and The Associated Press.