Speaking in front of Utah lawmakers in his third State of the State Address on Jan. 19, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox had a message for the state’s young people:
“You’ve got this.”
At times directly addressing young Utahns, Cox promised that state lawmakers were committed to addressing pressing issues like water, housing and concerns over a declining quality of life.
“To anyone who believes that the next generation in Utah will be worse off than their parents, my message is simple: not now, not on our watch,” he said.
Cox wants $150 million in the state’s budget to be appropriated toward affordable housing projects throughout the state.
He also pushed lawmakers to find creative ways to encourage more housing to be built, with the ultimate goal of driving down prices of so-called “starter homes.”
“Smart density, in the right places, paired with improved infrastructure from wise investments, and a renewed emphasis on single-family starter homes … will make certain that Utah does not become like California and that future generations will be able to call this state home,” he said.
Cox asked the Legislature to make this session the “Year of the Teacher.” He wants to see public school teachers receive a hefty pay and benefits bump — around $6,000 — which he said would be the largest in Utah history.
“If we want to guarantee that we have the best teachers, we must invest in our teachers,” he said. “Not only can we provide at least a 5% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, but we can also give every teacher the largest raise in our state's history.”
However, the Utah Legislature has a slightly different plan. A bill that ties a salary increase to “school choice,” commonly known as a school voucher program, made it through committee on Jan 19. HB 215 includes the creation of the “Utah Fits All Scholarship Program.” The public fund would allow parents to apply for money to send their children to private schools or to pay for homeschooling.
Following Cox’s remarks, Democratic House Minority Leader Angela Romero said Democrats would like to see teachers get a raise, but they will “continue to firmly oppose vouchers and other proposals that undermine and erode our public education system.”
The governor did not mention school choice or vouchers in his address.
Cox acknowledged Utah’s need for water. He mentioned the historic megadrought the West faces and the looming threat of the Great Salt Lake’s disappearance.
“Let me be clear,” he said, referring to the iconic lake. “We are not going to let that happen.”
The governor didn’t outline how he plans to save Great Salt Lake. But remained hopeful that the recent snow and rain would continue to fill the lake.
The Democratic Minority added the Legislature needs to act with urgency when it comes to Utah’s water woes. Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla highlighted the state is at a critical juncture with Great Salt Lake on the brink of vanishing and must use “technology to find solutions” and “lead with the spirit of innovation.”
The governor applauded Utahns for saving water and the Legislature for passing water conservation policy last year. Now, Cox would like to see $500 million more spent on agriculture optimization.
Updating agriculture technology to help farmers and ranchers use less water has support from both chambers, although it is unclear how much the Legislature will dedicate toward the cause.
Cox called farmers and ranchers the “backbone of our state and nation” and pleaded with Utahns not to place the water shortage blame on the agriculture community.
“Let’s continue to help them modernize their operations so that we can both save water and increase food production,” Cox said.
Cox called on the Legislature to facilitate $1 billion in tax cuts.
“One of the most important ways we can support your families, especially during difficult economic times, is to return more of your tax dollars,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Stuart Adams called this session “the year of the tax cut,” but lawmakers haven’t decided where those reductions are coming from.
Cox added Utah must show its commitment to being pro-life by action.
“That’s why I am also proposing this session a first-of-its-kind tax credit for all children — the born and the unborn,” Cox said. “We must also expand postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.”