2020 State of the State Address

President Adams, Speaker Wilson, members of the Legislature, justices of the Supreme Court, Utah’s First Lady, Jeanette, Lieutenant Governor Spencer and Mrs. Cox, other constitutional officers, and my fellow Utahns: I am grateful to be here to address you this evening. 

I’d like to welcome our legislators back to the hill and also extend a special welcome to Representatives Candice Pierucci and Steve Christiansen, who are joining us for their first general legislative session. My advice to them, and to all of you, is to roll up your sleeves and get to work, because we have a lot to do in the next 42 days. 

This is my 11th and my final State of the State address. 

And I give this speech tonight full of renewed hope and optimism for Utah’s future. I have learned much in my ten and a half years as governor. And as I reflect on our state’s successes, I feel humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside all of you, and to see firsthand the impact Utahns are having on improving our state.

Tonight, I’d like to express the deep respect and admiration I have for the people of Utah. I would like to speak directly to them for just a moment: 

You are kind-hearted people. You do good wherever you live. It is your hard work that helps bolster our economy. It is your kindness and service that make us the most charitable state in the nation. You care about your neighbors. You volunteer. It is your hopeful spirit and work ethic that make Utah the best place in the nation to live, to work, and to raise a family. You are the main reason for our success. Thank you for all that you do to make Utah great.

As directed by the Utah Constitution, I’m here tonight to report to you on the State of our State and to “recommend such measures as may be deemed expedient.” 

To say that the State of our State is excellent would be a gross understatement. Utah is thriving — and we are in the best position economically that we have ever been in our state’s history. 

We are leading the nation in job growth. Our unemployment rate is at an all-time low of 2.3 percent. That means that our state’s economy has created over 312,600 new jobs since the Great Recession. 

We have the largest middle class in America. Here in Utah, people are living the American dream of upward mobility the best in the nation. Personal income is growing by approximately seven percent per year, which is the second highest rate in the nation. And if that’s not enough, our household income is now the seventh highest in the nation. And if that’s still not enough, Utahns now have the lowest state tax obligation in 27 years. 

In addition, our education system has improved dramatically, with high school graduation rates improving by 11.4 percentage points since I became governor. 

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

We’ve also seen tremendous successes in higher education, including in our technical and vocational training colleges.

We’ve seen improvements in transportation and infrastructure, in healthcare, and in many other areas. 

I could go on, but you get the picture. The State of our State is … well, it’s just the best. 

Utah is leading the way today. And by the way, Utah has led the way in the past. 

This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. It’s also been 150 years since Seraph Young became the first woman in the nation to vote, right here in Utah! 

This year we are even sending Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon to Washington to remind everyone that Utah women voted first!  In honor of this event, I would like to ask all of our female elected officials, who are carrying on the legacy of Dr. Cannon, to stand and be recognized. You are proving that a Utah woman’s place is in the House and in the Senate! 

This evening, let us look forward to the challenges of the future with hope, optimism and with focus. Let us determine what we need to accomplish now for the future generations and for the decades to come. 

We’ve gathered here at the start of not just a new legislative session, but at the literal dawn of a new decade. Our quality of life has never been better. And our future has never been brighter!

Utah has always represented a better tomorrow. 

Our pioneer ancestors journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in search of a better life and new opportunities. On their journey, they planted crops that they would never harvest, and improved trails on which they would never again set foot. They did this because they knew that there would be others who would follow.

Today, new, modern-day pioneers are still coming here in search of a better life and new opportunities. 

One such person is Mohammad Alsoudani, a 23-year-old refugee from Iraq, who came to America six years ago. In high school, he worked a part-time job to help support his family while working hard to graduate and to learn English. After graduation, he signed up for computer programming courses taught at our Refugee Education and Training Center.

His hard work paid off. He is now employed by NAV, a tech company in Salt Lake. He is making a six-figure salary.

He is here with us tonight, along with other representatives of our refugee community — some of today’s modern pioneers. 

Mohammad’s success is impressive, but what I find truly remarkable about his story is that he now volunteers at the same Refugee Education and Training Center where he once studied.

He is helping others on their journey. He is improving the trail for those who are coming after him. 

He and his colleagues embody the same pioneering spirit that has defined us since 1847. Refugees then and now, are an important thread that has been woven into the tapestry of our state and our lives. Please join with me in recognizing their contributions.

Significant challenges, though, do lie ahead for us. 

For example, projections show our population will reach 5.8 million by the year 2065. Growth is coming to the state of Utah. And we must plan for that growth, and proactively prepare the way for those who are coming. 

Our success in Utah has not been by luck, accident, or serendipity. It has been by design, and it comes as the result of proper planning, and developing good policies that empower the private sector. 

In my last ten and a half years as governor, I have learned that every success creates not only new challenges — but also new opportunities! The 2010s have been the most successful decade in Utah’s history. Let us work together to make sure that the 2020s are an even decade. 

So, let’s now focus on the challenges and opportunities that growth is bringing. 

More people will need more housing. So, how do we ensure housing affordability? 

More people will drive more cars and create more traffic. So, what changes will  need to be made to avoid a California-like gridlock in traffic, and time-consuming commutes? 

More cars will create the potential for added pollution. So, how do we protect the air that we breathe? 

Your actions as a Legislature over these next 42 days will be instrumental in answering these, and many other important questions. 

Above me are the Latin words “Vox Populi” – which literally means the “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 during December’s special session will not be implemented.

But tax policy is complex. And tax modernization is still needed in order to have sustainable funding for public education, Medicaid, and other critical, core government services. 

I appreciate your efforts on this very difficult issue. 

But we need to continue this discussion with the people of Utah. We need to improve the dialogue. We need to build consensus, and we need to take the time to find solutions that are fair and equitable, and that will serve the best interests and the long-term needs of the people. I know we can do that. 

Most of you will remember that in the depths of the great recession, I set the goal for Utah to not only come out of the recession, but to become the top performing economy in the nation. 

By continuing to rely on sound economic principles, we can ensure that this success will continue for decades to come.

And today, as a result of our efforts, we now have the healthiest and most diverse economy in the United States!

One of the challenges that still remains economically is to ensure job opportunities to the nearly 25 percent of our people that live in rural Utah. 

As I travel from county to county, I recognize that Utahns love the beauty, peace and serenity of the road less traveled, such as Highway 10 through Ferron, or Highway 130 through Minersville, or through Rep. Casey Snider’s hometown of Paradise. 

Many Utahns don’t want to just vacation in rural Utah, they want to live there, and to work there, and to raise their families there. But raising a family in rural Utah requires stable employment. And many rural families are searching for better job opportunities closer to home. 

The good news is that according to our Department of Workforce Services, we are on track to exceed our goal of creating 25,000 new jobs in rural Utah by the end of this year. 

For example, the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative is finding new ways to turn coal into carbon fiber. The Utah Rural Online Initiative is empowering rural residents with new career options. Our successful efforts to develop broadband throughout the state are setting the foundation for opportunities we can’t yet even imagine. And thanks to technology and our telecommuting initiative, we’ve moved many state jobs to communities off of the Wasatch Front. 

From Panguitch to Providence, and from Richfield to Richmond, we are making significant progress. But we all agree that we will not rest until all 249 cities and towns, in all of our 29 counties, are thriving economically. 

But ensuring a high quality of life isn’t just about the jobs — it’s also about the environment that we live in. 

I’m pleased to note that in the past decade, air pollution in our state has decreased by over 30 percent! 

We’ve also worked hard to bring Tier 3 fuels to the state. Newer cars using this fuel can see an 80 percent reduction in emissions, which is like taking four out of every five cars off of the road.

However, as our population grows, so does the potential for increased pollution and crowding. We need to ensure that our children have safe places to play, clean air to breathe and good water to drink.

Salt Lake City’s new mayor, Erin Mendenhall, in indicating a desire for more collaboration with the State, has said that Utah “has an incredible opportunity to ensure continued growth, financial stability, and environmental viability by helping shift commuters onto public transit.”

We need to boldly reimagine our roads to safely accommodate cars, mass transit, bikes, pedestrians, and even those scooters. We should make commuting by transit as easy as commuting by car. 

Therefore, as President Adams has recommended, we need to double-track sections of Frontrunner so we can run trains every 15 minutes, instead of every half an hour. In my budget, I set aside a $34 million down payment toward improvements in heavy rail, light rail, and bus transit. 

Also in my budget recommendations, I set aside $66 million for fast electric vehicle charging stations, to help accommodate the growing use of electric automobiles on Utah’s roads. This $100 million investment in our transportation and mass transit is a necessary step toward improving the air that we breathe. 

Thanks to you all for taking this issue seriously — especially members of our Clean Air Caucus, including legislators like Luz Escamilla and Patrice Arent, Steve Handy and Todd Weiler — and many others including UCAIR, the Utah Clean Air Partnership — for your work on improving air quality.

In addition to putting pressure on our transportation system, Utah’s continued growth has created a very tight housing market, which is driving up the costs to purchase or to rent. 

It’s time to consider making our land use zoning laws, and building codes more responsive to our growing population and market needs when it comes to housing affordability. This means we need to reimagine what our communities and houses will look like in the future. 

By thinking creatively, and working in collaboration with our cities and counties, we can help change the landscape of our housing market, and help design neighborhoods that our children and grandchildren will want to live in, and just as importantly — that they can afford to live in. This will be difficult, but it is needful, and it will be worth the effort. 

In the last three years, the State has worked with Salt Lake City to change how we help those experiencing homelessness. 

I express my appreciation to Lieutenant Governor Cox for his compassion on this issue, and for his leadership in bringing people together to find solutions. 

This past year saw the opening of three new resource centers, which provide shelter, food, medical care, employment assistance, community support, and help in finding long-term housing. These centers are changing lives.

It is our responsibility, and the role of government, to make sure that our state provides unparalleled opportunity and quality of life for the people that we represent. I’m grateful to all those who work to focus their efforts on helping the most vulnerable citizens among us. 

I share the vision of my friend, Pamela Atkinson, the Mother Theresa of Utah, who said:

“We want to help individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness to be able to attain safe housing, and enjoy positive life activity by finding a good job with a livable income, so that all may have a productive and meaningful life!”

Ladies and gentlemen, all of the planning we do for the future success of our state — all of the energy and time we invest in supporting its economy — will do very little if we do not put our children and their education first in every decision that we make. 

If we want to plan for the future, if we want to plan for growth, we would be wise to invest directly in the people who will lead Utah in the future — our children.

Throughout my time as governor, education has been my number one priority. 

I’ve often said that education is not all about the money, but it is some about the money.  

I appreciate that with the adoption of this year’s budget, you will have invested an additional 2.3 billion dollars in our school children in K-12 over the last nine years.

On behalf of students, their parents, their grandparents, teachers, the business community and nearly everyone in the state —  we say thank you to the Legislature, for your commitment to education.  

These have been necessary and important steps in the right direction, and I urge you to stay the course. 

I realize that providing the best education possible to our students is not only about the dollars spent, but also about the people who are teaching our children. 

I have such respect for our teachers, and for their dedication to our students. They deserve our trust and our support. They get the big picture. 

This year’s teacher of the year, Lauren Merkley, is here with us tonight, and she is one such teacher who gets it.

Her vision is that Utah will lead not just in test scores, but in an education system that meets the individual needs of every student — a system unafraid of innovation, dedicated to equitable practices, and filled with teachers expertly versed in both content and compassion.  

Please join with me as we recognize Lauren Merkley, our teacher of the year — and express appreciation for all of the teachers in Utah! 

And by the way, compassion is so important in our schools — not just with our very young students, but also with students in middle school, and high school. 

I’d like to once again thank the Legislature, and especially Rep. Eliason and Sen. Thatcher, for crafting meaningful policy and helping to direct investments in school counseling, anti-bullying campaigns, and the development of the SafeUT app, which lets our students anonymously connect with mental health professionals. These resources are improving, and even saving, the lives of our young people.

This session we can continue to strengthen and enhance our mental health resources, because every person matters.

My friends, we have everything it takes to achieve our goal to become the best education system in America, and we can achieve that goal by working together, by expressing gratitude to and supporting the good work of our teachers, and also by continuing to appropriately fund public education. 

We also need to acknowledge the efforts of our parents, principals, superintendents, school board members, and our private sector partners. 

Let’s continue to commit, right here and right now, that as a state, when it comes to supporting education, we will settle for nothing less than an “A” grade.

Exactly 10 years ago, I stood here and delivered my first State of the State address. 

Next year, someone else will stand here in my place.  

It has been an amazing decade. We’ve had a great run together. 

We’ve seen major challenges, but we’ve also created solutions and seen unparalleled success. 

The challenges we face today are not the same challenges that we faced ten years ago. 

Ten years ago on this same occasion, I said that we could find unlimited possibilities of what we could accomplish through creating unprecedented partnerships. Tonight, as I look out at you, at the dawn of a new decade, I am in awe of the infinite possibilities that lie ahead of us. 

We can make the most of these opportunities by following the formula of unprecedented partnerships that we have used these past ten years. 

Let’s not allow anything dividing our nation to divide our state. Let’s build our friendships based on mutual respect, better communication, and the strengthening of our partnerships.

Let’s work together, day in, and day out, to build a better future. Let’s work hard. Let’s make 2020 the best year of all. 

My dear friends, there are many others — including our children and grandchildren  — following after us in search of a great life and an even better tomorrow. 

Let’s prepare the way for them. Let’s give them hope and opportunity. Let’s show them that we care. Together, we can be like the pioneers of the past and sow the right seeds, and prepare the trail for those who are yet to follow.

Thank you for your efforts. May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the great state of Utah. 

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