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Gov. Cox: ‘In the absence of action’ states like Utah have to step in

Gov. Spencer Cox answers questions during his monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center, on Thursday, May 18, 2023.
Rick Egan
The Salt Lake Tribune, pool
Gov. Spencer Cox answers questions during his monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center, on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

In his monthly news conference with reporters, Gov. Spencer Cox grew animated when asked about several of the issues facing Utah and whether the state should be taking them on rather than the federal government.

On immigration, concerns about TikTok and its ties to China, and infrastructure — Utah has moved out in front, and in some cases faces questions because of it, or has been loudly critical of how the government works.

While Cox is optimistic that Congress and President Joe Biden will do something on social media, he’s less confident on others. Even as he recognizes that “there are some areas that are definitely in the purview of Congress and where they should take action.”

“But in the absence of action, we have no choice but to step in where we can.”


Cox didn’t mince words when he was asked about immigration.

“These imbeciles in Congress can't get their crap together to do something that everybody knows needs to be done, and that is to protect the border and to fix legal immigration,” he said. “It's embarrassing. And they should all get fired.” (Ed. note: The governor apologized on Twitter the following day for the hot remark.)

He didn’t take a stance on the latest immigration policies passed in Florida. The most recent law, supported by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, requires employers to verify if their employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S. Businesses could be charged $1,000 a day if they do not comply.

“It's hard to blame any single administration when really this problem lies at the feet of Congress,” Cox said. “Congress is the problem right now among immigration. States should not be trying to fix this.”

The governor added the national economy is suffering because of broken immigration policies that hinder migrants from working in the states. With more than nine million open jobs nationwide, Cox said the country and Utah do “need more immigrants” to fill those vacancies.

The Internet and social media

After PornHub blocked traffic from Utah in protest of a recent state law that requires users to verify their age before accessing pornographic websites, Cox said he had “no problem with them turning off their service in the state.”

The Free Speech Coalition, a trade organization representing the adult entertainment industry, has filed a lawsuit over the law.

Cox said he doesn’t know how much money the state is expected to spend defending the suit. But he criticized the site for not working with the state on the age verification law that led the adult content site to restrict access to the state.

“I just think it is unconscionable that people would push back on this idea that we wouldn't want to have an age verification system when it comes to something that damaging to young people,” he said.

Turning to the state’s other online boogeyman, Cox applauded Gov. Greg Gianfortes of Montana for signing the state’s full ban on TikTok.

Cox issued an executive order last December banning TikTok on state-owned devices in executive branch agencies. He also signed two laws in March seeking to shield young people from the harms of social media. Cox again defended his stance, referring to TikTok’s “addictive algorithms” and “ties to the Chinese government.”

“We'll be watching [Montana’s new law] very closely to see what happens and how that plays out and to see what the benefits are,” the governor noted. “But we're going to do everything we can in Utah to protect our children. This legislation that we passed [this year] will significantly impact TikTok and I think in all the right ways.”

Major infrastructure

Cox also voiced his frustration with how long construction permits take to get approved.

The Utah Transit Authority plans to expand the FrontRunner to a double track instead of a single track thanks to federal dollars from the Biden administration. It’s expected to take six years to complete. When asked if Cox was OK with the construction timeline, he made it clear that he wasn’t.

“I'm not comfortable with the pace of building anything in this country,” he said. “That's not a function of UDOT, that's a function of the just arcane and byzantine processes that we have to go through to build things in this state.”

While some of the red tape for construction comes from state regulations, there are other barriers. Since there is a federal funding component to the project, Cox added “there are lots of federal permitting laws that we have to go through that just add time and expense to any big projects that we take.”

He said that he’s partnering with other governors across the country to encourage the federal government to “work on some permitting reform and some changes to federal law that will allow us to build things much more quickly.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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