Gov. Spencer Cox On The Drought, Vaccination Rates, Wildfires And Housing Affordability
At his monthly press conference, Gov. Spencer Cox weighed in on several high-profile issues facing Utah — from the drought to housing affordability.
Solutions to Utah’s Drought
Ninety-eight percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought and about half of its largest reservoirs are less than 55% full.
Cox said local water districts are responsible for imposing short-term limits on how much water people can consume, and they should make sure they’re enforcing those rules with things like fines and turning off people’s water if they don’t comply.
But Cox said he’s working with state lawmakers on some bigger and longer-lasting changes, particularly for the agricultural industry.
“They’re looking at finding new ways to improve agriculture output with less water and so we're hoping to get some money to incentivize that,” he said.
The Legislature would likely take those up in January when lawmakers reconvene.
During the July 4 week, Cox said there were about half as many human-caused wildfires as there were the same week last year. He thanked Utahns for being careful and not using as many personal fireworks.
As Pioneer Day approaches, Cox urged people not to use personal fireworks then either.
“We just have to keep this up as we go through this very, very dangerous and dry time in our state,” he said.
Right Wing Anti-Vaxxers
Cox criticized people spreading vaccine disinformation that’s aimed at convincing people not to get vaccinated.
“I'm very proud of President Trump and I'm very proud of Operation Warp Speed,” Cox said. “But I don't think we can take credit for getting the vaccine and then tell people that there's something wrong with the vaccine and you shouldn't be getting it. That just doesn't make sense to me. It's ridiculous what's happening.”
It’s also dangerous, Cox added.
“It’s literally killing their supporters,” he said.
Vaccination Rates Climbing
The pace of vaccinations in Utah is slightly increasing, Cox said, but “not [in] huge leaps.”
Cox attributed the rise in vaccines to the rise in cases.
“There’s still a group of people who are vaccine hesitant, but they're not completely opposed to the vaccine,” he said. “I think a lot of them thought, ‘Well, as long as cases are going down and it's going away, then I'm fine.’ But now that cases are going up and we are seeing more hospitalizations, I think those people are saying, ‘Yeah, probably it's time to go.’”
The state isn’t implementing any new strategies to get more Utahns vaccinated, but they’re continuing to open as many vaccine sites as possible, including workplace or drive through vaccine clinics. Officials are also encouraging people to talk to their doctors about any concerns they have about the vaccine.
“We just keep pleading and asking people,” Cox said. “We know why the cases are going up. We know why hospitalizations are going up. And it's just because we need more people to get vaccinated. And I promise you, the disease is worse than the vaccine.”
About 30% of kids 12-15 years old have been vaccinated, according to Cox. He expects that number to rise as the school year gets closer.
“The hospitalization rates, the serious illness rates, the death rates are significantly lower among this population, [but] getting younger people vaccinated will help slow the circulation of the disease among our older population,” Cox said.
Rural Utah Economy
The Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity is working on a proposal to switch up how the state awards tax incentives for out of state companies to expand into Utah.
Throughout his campaign for governor last year, Cox said he wanted to dial back these types of incentives when unemployment is low. During Thursday’s news conference, he also floated the idea of varying the incentives by geography. So, if unemployment was higher in an area of rural Utah, companies would get more of a tax incentive to move there than they would to move to the Wasatch Front.
Increased options for working remotely are also helping those rural economies, he said.
“Just this week, I've had several conversations with people who have taken the state up on working remotely and moved back home where they grew up,” Cox said.
Utahns need to make at least $20 per hour in order to afford “a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent,” according to a new study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Cox said there would likely be a series of bills introduced during the next legislative session in January to address housing affordability. He also touted a bill passed earlier this year easing regulations on mother-in-law units and the state’s budget that allocated $50 million toward housing and homelessness issues.
On the employee side of the issue, Cox said the state needs to do better at connecting low-wage workers with the many higher paying jobs available in Utah.
“Instead of paying $30 an hour to work at McDonald's, I think we should help the McDonald's worker get a [different] $30 an hour job,” he said. “That's where my focus is.”
But, as long as those low-wage jobs exist, someone needs to fill them. When asked what happens to the workers who inevitably have to fill those jobs, Cox replied “My kid works at McDonald's. That's what happens.”