Gov. Gary Herbert used his ninth annual State of the State address to urge lawmakers take on big challenges with a spirit of civility and collaboration.
Herbert said he’s more optimistic than ever about Utah’s future, describing the state of the state as “truly, truly exceptional.”
But rather than bore down on specific policies, the governor asked lawmakers to think long and hard about how their work will be viewed by future generations of Utahns, and how they can accomplish their goals by working together, "side-to-side, shoulder-to-shoulder."
“Now this is what sets Utah apart," he said to a joint session of the Utah Legislature. "Instead of skirting the big issues, instead of pointing fingers, and instead of refusing to talk about them, we face them in the spirit of personal and shared responsibility. And we find answers."
The Republican did lay out some bare bones priorities. Among them: updating the tax code, increasing education funding, revamping transportation policy and plugging holes in the social safety net.
But Herbert warned lawmakers not to get too carried away.
“I understand 1,277 bills files have been opened for this session," said Herbert. "That’s to date. As one of your colleagues said — I won't mention his name, he's related to the Lieutenant Governor — ‘It may be a bit much.'”
The 25-minute speech included praise for the joint effort by city, county and state leaders on the drug and crime crackdown called Operation Rio Grande. He also highlighted charitable efforts by local Utahns to help Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane last fall. There was even a veiled reference to the #MeToo movement.
The third term governor took a more somber tact in addressing a recent spike in teen suicides in the state.
“The fact that suicide has become the leading cause of death among our young people horrifies me," he said. "Just as we could not ignore the human tragedy in the Rio Grande area, we must not ignore this human tragedy of suicide.”
Herbert formed a task force this month of lawmakers, faith and business leaders to find solutions. The group will present their recommendations to him next month.
In reaction to the speech, Democratic House Minority Leader Brian King said Herbert hadn’t gone far enough in extending Utah’s economic gains to its most vulnerable.
“We are doing well in Utah,” he said. “But it’s because we’re doing well in Utah that we need to step up in a more vigorous, in a more aggressive way, and in many ways, in a more self-sacrificing way to ensure the people who have been left behind aren’t left behind anymore.”
King said Utah still ranked near the bottom for per pupil spending and is one of only a handful of states that hasn’t fully expanded Medicaid. He said it’s important that lawmakers not grow complacent to the needs of everyday working families.