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'Well, We're Just The Best:' Herbert Delivers Final State Of The State

Photo of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivering his State of the State address in the state Capitol building.
Sonja Hutson
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivers his final State of the State address on Wednesday, as he's not seeking re-election this year.

Despite being forced to roll back a tax reform plan he had recently signed into law, Gov. Gary Herbert delivered a reflective and hopeful speech at his annual State of the State address Wednesday evening.

The speech was Herbert’s 11th and final, since he is not seeking re-election this year. 

He began by basking in the state’s successes: Utah boasts record unemployment, low taxes, “the largest middle class in America” and the second-highest rate of personal income growth in the nation, he said. 

“Utah is thriving and we are in the best position economically that we have ever been in our state’s history,” said Herbert.

Additionally, the governor, who has pumped $1 billion new dollars into public schools over the past four years, hinted that his investment has paid off.

“Our student achievement is no longer middle of the pack on tests that compare states to one another,” he said. “Today, our students score in the top 10 in almost every subject. Our goal to have the best education system in America is within reach.”

The Republican governor also touted improvements in healthcare, transportation and higher education.

“The state of our state is … well, we're just the best,” he said.


But Herbert says the state has “significant challenges” on the horizon due to a booming population, which is projected to nearly double over the next four decades. 

To deal with traffic and air quality, Herbert has asked the Legislature to pump $100 million to improving air quality with projects like adding new electric vehicle charging stations across the state and expanding public transit. 

“We should make commuting by transit as easy as commuting by car,” he said, throwing his support behind a proposal to double-track sections of Frontrunner to allow more frequent trains. 

To tackle the growing issue of homelessness and housing affordability, Herbert suggested making changes to zoning laws and building codes. He also applauded the opening of three new homeless resource centers.

Tax Reform

Herbert briefly acknowledged a referendum which took down a tax reform plan earlier this week, pointing out that directly above his perch on the Speaker’s dais in the Utah House chamber are the words “Vox Populi” — Latin for “voice of the people.”

“The voice of the people is an essential part of representative government, and it is the reason that the tax bill passed in December’s special session will not be implemented,” he said. 

Herbert called on lawmakers to “improve the dialogue,” “build consensus” and “ find solutions that are fair and equitable” as they address tax reform in the future. Lawmakers have said they will likely return to the issue in 2021, after the state elects a new governor. 

‘Today’s Modern Pioneers’

Herbert recognized several refugees during his speech, calling them “today’s modern pioneers.” 

Mohammad Alsoudani is one of those people. Herbert said he came to the U.S. six years ago as a refugee from Iraq, and took computer programming courses at the Refugee Education and Training Center. He’s now working for a tech company and volunteers at that same center. 

“He is improving the trail for those who are coming after him,” Herbert said. “He and his colleagues embody the same pioneering spirit that has defined us since 1847.”

The third-term governor’s voice shook with emotion near the end of his address as he remembered his decade in office. “We’ve had a great run together. We’ve seen major challenges, but we’ve also created solutions and seen unparalleled success,” he said.

Democratic Response

Democrats issued a video response to Herbert’s speech, arguing that they listen to the voices of Utahns, unlike other lawmakers. 

“We believe in empowering people over special interests,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City), listing expanding Medicaid and legalizing medical cannabis as examples.

“And just last month, when the state’s leaders passed a tax bill that increased the sales tax on food and slashed $160 million from our education fund, we again listened to the people of this state and all voted ‘no,’” King added. 

Democrats also discussed their legislative priorities in their response, including homelessness, air quality, and redistricting.

Nicole Nixon covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @_Nixo

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

CORRECTION 1/29/20 8:40 P.M.:  A copy of Gov. Herbert’s speech given to reporters ahead of time included the line “The state of our state is … well, it’s just the best.” In his actual remarks, Herbert changed the line to “Well, we’re just the best.” 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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