Gov. Herbert delivers 2016 State of the State Address

Gov. Gary R. Herbert delivered the 2016 State of the State address before a joint session of the legislature and Utahns from across the state on January 27, 2016. Below is a transcript of his address.

Click here to download a PDF of the full text.


President Niederhauser, Speaker Hughes, Members of the Legislature, Justices of the Utah Supreme Court, Lieutenant Governor and Mrs. Cox and Utah’s First Lady, my wife, Jeanette. My fellow Utahns.

The Utah we know and love today stands on higher ground because of the many sacrifices of hardworking Utahns who have gone before us.

Let me begin this evening by acknowledging two of these giants who left us this past year–former Governors, Norm Bangerter and Olene Walker. Among Governor Bangerter’s many achievements, he deserves great credit for increasing education funding and improving government efficiency during a time of economic uncertainty.

Governor Bangerter was a down-to-earth leader who liked to say that he was “just an old farmer and carpenter” from Granger who happened to be governor. We all saw so much more in Norm Bangerter. He was a true leader who had the courage to stand up for what he believed. He knew how to partner with the Legislature to solve the critical issues of the day. In short, Norm offered Utah what we need in this state, and that is the steady hand of leadership.

Governor Walker was also a leader, and a trailblazer, the first woman to hold Utah’s highest office. Just as important, she was a tireless advocate for education who established early reading initiatives in our Utah schools.

As a state legislator, she had the foresight to create Utah’s Rainy Day Fund to help us prepare our state for the unforeseen events of the future. That Rainy Day fund now has $528 million in it, the largest amount in our state’s history, and for establishing and prudently increasing the Rainy Day Fund, both Governor Walker and everyone here in this body deserves a round of applause.

This week we witnessed a remarkable outpouring of love and support for hometown hero Officer Doug Barney, who gave the ultimate sacrifice while in the line of duty. He was a husband, a father of three beautiful children, a dependable friend and brother, and an honorable public servant.

In honor of him and others who have gone before, let us today commit ourselves as a state to show greater respect and appreciation for the men and women who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve, protect, and defend Utahns every single day.

The question before us tonight is simple: what is the state of our state? And just as important, what are we going to do to make it even better?

Six years ago, our state found itself in the most severe recession since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate at the time was 8 percent. Each of us had family members and friends who struggled just to get by. Our economy had been weakened, but we did not give up hope. Together, we set a goal to not only recover from the Great Recession but to become the top-performing economy in America.

Six years later, our state economy has added 219,000 new jobs, with an unemployment rate dropping from 8 percent down to 3½ percent today. In fact, in 9 of the last 12 months, Utah had the highest job growth creation of any state in the nation.

Our economy is now the third most diverse. Income inequality is low. Our wage growth is up. And just this fall, the state of Utah was recognized as the most fundamentally sound economy in America. Since I stood here one year ago, businesses across our state have now added approximately 40,000 new jobs.

Think about that for just a minute.  Some of you within the sound of my voice know the pain that comes from losing a job. 40,000 new jobs means new opportunities for 40,000 Utahns. This isn’t just a statistic. We’re talking about real people here, our neighbors, our friends, our family members.  

So what is the state of our state? The state of our state is strong, and I think most of us would say the state of our state is outstanding. That being said, I believe that we can do even better.

A high quality of life should mean parents don’t have to watch their children leave and go to another town or another state because there are no jobs available where they live.

Jeanette and I enjoy the singular blessing of having our 6 children and now 16 grandchildren all living here in Utah within just 30 minutes of our home. Your children may not choose to stay here, but we need an economy strong enough that they always have the choice.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in some of the rural areas of our state. As we begin this session, I ask you in the Legislature to focus on these communities with renewed determination and resolve.

Thanks to the leadership of Senator Ralph Okerlund, we now have new tools available to help in this battle. Soon there will be a new industrial development in Iron County, roads and power to a potash mine in Beaver County, and other critical infrastructure projects that will enable businesses to expand in rural Utah like never before.

While developing this kind of basic infrastructure is the proper role of government, make no mistake, ultimately it is our small businesses and large businesses and the tens of thousands of hardworking, productive Utah workers who create Utah’s economic success, and not the government.

If we expect to make even more progress in rural Utah, it will take more entrepreneurs like Roland Christensen, born and raised in Fayette, Utah, population 245. In his lifetime, Roland has developed 38 different patents and started four successful businesses. He has employed hundreds of people. And the place he chose to build those businesses is in his hometown in Sanpete County. For those of you born and raised in rural Utah, your hometown needs you.

To Utahns everywhere, whether you live in Blanding or Bear River, Parowan or Plain City, I pledge to you tonight that we will not rest until all 29 counties and all 245 cities and towns in our state are full participants in Utah’s tremendous economic success.

Even in those areas of our state with abundant prosperity, we can still do better.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with Mellowdey Trueblood, a young single mother from Ogden. As a child and now an adult, she has experienced constant economic struggles, homelessness, joblessness, and the feeling that life just isn’t what it could or should be. During my visit with her, she said something that has left an indelible impression upon me: She said, “Governor, A lot of brilliant minds are lost to poverty.”

In typical Utah fashion, Mellowdey decided she was going to do something about her situation. She enrolled in a paralegal program provided by Weber State University. She began attending financial planning and budget classes. And because she lives in Utah, not only will she have a good education, but there will be job opportunities for her once she graduates.

As Mellowdey has demonstrated and as I believe, it is education, not entitlement, that creates the opportunity for self reliance. If you remember nothing else from my message this evening, remember this. Education is the most important investment we can make in Utah’s future.

One of the defining moments in my time as governor came last year when we made one of the largest increases in education funding ever in Utah’s history, $512 million in all. As I go around the state, I am often thanked by teachers, principals, parents and others for this extraordinary investment in Utah’s future.

Members of the Legislature, I recognize that you often don’t get all the credit you deserve on this issue. I believe that needs to change. So tonight I want to be absolutely clear. On behalf of all three million Utahns from across this state I am here to deliver a message that is long overdue. Thank you, members of the Legislature, for investing in our future.

With finite resources and hundreds of competing demands in last year’s session, you made the tough decisions that put Utah’s children first. Together we have invested over $1.3 billion of new money in education over the past four years, which is more money, by the way, committed to education than any other time in Utah’s history.

Our sustained long-term investment in education is already producing positive results. For example when I first came into office, one in every four Utah high school students did not graduate. That was unacceptable to you and to me. Step by step, that number has improved.

I am pleased to report that Utah’s graduation rate has grown by nearly 10 percent and now is at 84 percent. That means 3,400 additional students now graduate each and every year from Utah schools with increased opportunities like never before. Now 84 percent is good compared to other states, but I know that we can and that we must, in fact, do better.

Tonight, I am challenging teachers, parents, principals, school board members, and most importantly, our students to raise our graduation rate in this state to 90 percent in the next four years. I pledge to you tonight that we will bring to bear the necessary resources, determination and innovation to achieve this goal.

Members of the Legislature, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas pedal! Let us recommit tonight that we will work together to invest in our children and in our future.

As one of the fastest growing states in America, just a few months ago, our state welcomed its three millionth resident. With our growing population, we must do all that we can to preserve our enviable quality of life despite some of the challenges that we uniquely face.

One example is the meaningful progress we have made to improve air quality. Together, we have reduced total emissions by approximately 35 percent over the past 10 years. But the data means very little when the inversion sets in and those emissions hang in the valleys. There is important work yet to be done.

One thing is for certain—environmental challenges won’t be solved with hyperbole or misinformation. We must invest our limited resources in programs and technology that will actually work, not just rhetoric that ignores common sense.

That’s why I am continuing to push for our refineries to produce much cleaner Tier 3 fuel as soon as possible. This is one of the most effective steps we can take to improve air quality. I am proud to announce that one of our refineries, Tesoro, has already agreed to make this transition. I have personally met with every refinery in the state, and we expect others will work with us to fully bring Tier 3 fuels to Utah.

We are currently enjoying a wet winter, but we know from history it may not always be that way. That’s why my budget also calls for funds to help find long-term solutions to our water supply to accommodate future needs.

We must make an individual and collective commitment to be good stewards of our land, our air and our water. There’s no state in America with as much natural beauty as our state and our combined efforts will ensure that Utah’s natural wonders can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Healthcare is another important issue. Some continue to struggle with inadequate healthcare coverage because of the fundamentally flawed Affordable Care Act, coupled with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Here in the state of Utah, we have worked together to try and find a solution. Unfortunately, we have not yet succeeded in that effort. Too often many of the problems created by the federal government are simply dumped at the feet of the states.

We can speak out in defiance. We can choose to ignore them. Or we can roll up our sleeves and work together to actually do something.

My friends in the Legislature, it is time to find a solution. This problem is not going to go away. This is too important an issue to ignore.

Too many Utahns work hard and still have no healthcare coverage.

I promise that I will work with you to continue providing constructive, practical solutions to every problem and every challenge that we face regardless of who created them, and I know that you want to do the same thing. No matter what issues we face, the states can and do find the best solutions, not the federal government. On this issue of healthcare, let this be the session when Utah leads the way in finding the right state solution.

We have seen that kind of innovation and success in other areas of state government. For example, if we simply added new employees over the last five years at the same rate as our growing population, we would have more than 2,200 additional full-time state employees today. Instead, we have reduced the number of state employees by 11 percent, saving Utah taxpayers over $177 million in 2015 alone.

What does that improved efficiency mean in practical terms for everyday Utah citizens? It means our tax burden is one of the lowest in the nation. Improved efficiency also means that you can now carry around your fishing or hunting license on your smartphone. It means that we can process fingerprints faster than ever before, to get criminals off the streets and behind bars. And we have accomplished what many may think is impossible – we have actually reduced the average wait time down to 4 minutes at the DMV.

Four years ago, my administration conducted an exhaustive regulation review process that has modified and eliminated 368 regulations. In addition, I have just completed a review of every executive order issued by a Utah governor since statehood. Tonight, I am pleased to announce that I will repeal 52 of these executive orders that are no longer necessary.

In Washington, D.C., we have a president who thinks it’s okay to bypass Congress and create laws by executive order. Well, that’s not the way we do it in Utah.

As governor, I will not issue executive orders to bypass you, the Legislature, or the will of the people. Here in Utah, we still believe in the rule of law and the three branches of government.

To my friends in the Legislature, I need your help. If we truly believe in limited government, now is the time to show it.

I see that a large number of bill files have already been opened this session. Most of those bills add a few lines to state code to fix various issues, but tonight I am calling on you to do something entirely different.

I have instructed my Cabinet to work with you to find areas of relevant state code that can not only be updated and improved but, where possible, deleted altogether. Let this be a session where we cut unnecessary red tape in government. Let’s shrink the size of the state code.

Please know that you will have a willing partner in my administration to accomplish this laudable and overdue goal. We cannot simply wait for the next Zenefits or Tesla to come along for us to conclude that many laws are now onerous and unnecessary. We must streamline government today to allow the 21st century economy to continue growing uninhibited by outdated laws, rules and regulations.

While our economy may be tremendously strong today, there are, in fact, challenges on the horizon. The federal government still controls and mismanages too much of our backyard, and we live with the daily threat of a presidential monument declaration. I am encouraged by the work of Representative Keven Stratton and others on this issue.

I am also an enthusiastic supporter of the Public Lands Initiative of Congressman Rob Bishop, Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Senator Mike Lee. I believe these are critical steps to help resolve this long-standing conflict and improve our self reliance. Of course self reliance is not just an issue for our public lands. It should permeate everything we do in state government, especially in our annual budget process.

While a $528 million Rainy Day fund is extraordinary, there are others things we must do in order to preserve our state’s unprecedented fiscal stability. First and foremost, my proposed budget calls for no new debt and no tax increases. In addition, it pays off $350 million in existing debt, bringing the total debt paid off by the state over the last five years to over $1.4 billion.

We all know that being prepared for the future means being fiscally prudent. That’s why when measured on a per-capita basis, it is good news to know that Utah spends the fewest federal dollars of all the 50 states.

These are just some of the reasons why, just this past month, we have once again been rated as one of only nine states in this country with a AAA bond rating. Think about that for a moment. Forty-one other states have a tarnished bond rating. The United States of America recently had its own rating downgraded. But not here in Utah.

And don’t think for a minute that this recognition does not matter. It saves the taxpayer money. AAA is the best you can get, and here in Utah we won’t settle for anything less.

For all the challenges Utah faces, it is important to remember that there are 49 other states out there that would love to trade places with us. Political gridlock is everywhere in this country, but here in Utah we know how to come together, in spite of our differences, and get things done. I believe there has never been a better time to live, to work, and to raise a family in this state.

To answer the question I posed earlier, the state of our state is strong. It’s outstanding.  But it’s much more than that.

The events of last week’s tragedy with Officer Barney impacted all of us profoundly. But equally impactful was the tremendous outpouring of public spirit that we all witnessed. We will never forget the 50-mile long motorcade, the streets lined with children holding flags, and neighbors and friends on overpasses saluting one of our own. I have never been more proud to call Utah home.

Yes, the state of our state has never been stronger.

But as I watched Utahns mourn together, I realized something more important. I realized the state of our state is strong because the state of our people has never been stronger.

As Utahns, you are united, you are compassionate, you are inspiring, you are extraordinary. I am proud to be a part of this great state. I am proud to be a Utahn. It is indeed an honor for all of us to serve.

May God bless our great country in this difficult time.

And may God continue to bless the Great State of Utah and her people.

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