Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert gave his final State of the State address to Utahns Wednesday night, and as expected he touted all of the good things happening in the Beehive State.
Herbert is not running for re-election this year, and first came into office in the spring of 2009, after then-Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned to become ambassador to China — Herbert being LG then.
Herbert is one of three governors to win three elections, and he will leave office the end of this year likely with high approval ratings.
He wanted to start his address before lawmakers, he said, by speaking directly to Utahns, who gave him those three elections:
“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.”
He was interrupted dozens of times by applause, and toward the end of his address, recalling all that he and others around him had been through, he choked up, and clearly struggled to control his emotions and finish.
The governor loves to brag about Utah.
And he did so in his half-hour televised address.
He ticked them off, one by one: Best economy, lowest unemployment (2.3 percent), increased education success, and on and on.
The state of the State is, well, just the best, he said.
But with much success comes responsibilities and challenges. Growth is the problem, and the opportunity.
Herbert recognized the failed tax reform effort. And while he won’t be around in 2021 to work on the effort, Herbert said it can be done, and must be.
“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.”
Still, the 45-day session got off to a halting start when Herbert and GOP leaders threw in the towel on tax reform -- the huge effort ended in repeal Tuesday, with Herbert signing the bill that now frees up $160 million in the now-unspent income tax cut.
He did not address Wednesday night what should be done with that money, with GOP leaders telling UtahPolicy.com that that decision will come down the road over the next few weeks.
The governor did list some areas that need to be addressed this session:
Roads and mass transit must be updated, including double-tracking Frontrunner, so trains can run more often.
Air quality is paramount, and he named both Democrats and Republicans who push improvements. He has an aggressive $100 million plan for air quality, which includes a build-out statewide for electric car/hybrid charging stations.
With tax reform dead, however, it remains to be seen how much non-education money will be available for such programs.
“We must reimagine” what housing will look like in the future, so our children and grandchildren can afford to live in our communities, he said.
He specifically mentioned Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, and promised to work with her on a variety of issues -- but he didn’t mention the state-controlled inland port that so many city dwellers oppose.
Education of our children must come first in every decision we make, he said. It has been, and is, his No. 1 priority, said Herbert.
He praised the teachers, who will be key to any successful tax reform in the months and years to come.
“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.”
Next year at this time there will be a new governor delivering the State of the State.
He thanked all the people who have made the last decade the best in the state’s history.
Utah is at the top of the heap among the states. The challenge now is not only to stay there, but to achieve even more.