Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Salute to America” event at the Hilton Garden Inn, St. George, Utah, Oct. 7, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News
ST. GEORGE — In a State of the State address he said focused on Utah’s next generation, Gov. Spencer Cox gave a peek at issues uncertain in Southern Utah’s future including water and housing availability.
Update Jan. 19, 9 p.m. Additional material added including information on water, housing, education and foster family proposals.
In the Thursday night address in Utah House chambers of the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Cox also proposed what he said would be an economic boost to residents with a $1 billion tax cut and a tax credit for all children including the “unborn.”
One of Southern Utah’s newest representatives in the Legislature told St. George News the Utah economy will be able to sustain such a cut.
“The strength of the state is really, really good,” Rep. Joseph Elison, R-Hurricane, elected last November to represent House District 72, said, adding Utah’s economy is in a position to handle such a tax cut even if the nationwide economy falls into recession. “We’re able to handle it. We’ll be OK. “
As part of what he said was a focus on the next generation, legislators and others attending were invited to bring their children, grandchildren and other young family members and he mentioned legislators not by name but by terms like “Zach Wilson’s dad” (House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Davis) and “Landon McKell’s dad” (Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork).
After promising to keep the speech short for the children in the audience, it clocked in a little over 20 minutes. During the speech, he also said he made a promise beforehand to his youngest daughter.
“I did promise her I would try to limit the number of dad jokes,” Cox told those assembled.
The governor also asked the Legislature to direct the state’s budget surplus toward a record $1 billion state tax cut. That would eclipse the current-record $300 million tax cut of the last two years. Cox mentioned that the state still has a large surplus and one of the higher bond ratings among the 50 states.
“My philosophy is simple: I believe that Utah families can spend this surplus better than we can,” Cox said. “We can and must enable Utahns to keep more of their hard-earned dollars to combat the rising cost of living.”
With tax cuts as one of the central tenets of his campaign last year, Elison said there are several ways to make those tax cuts happen.
“As for the billion, there are several ideas from sales tax reduction, income tax reduction, credits, rebates, etc.,” Elison said. “It’ll be interesting to see which ideas emerge.”
Cox also said tax credits have no minimum age. Eluding to last summer’s Supreme Court decision to end federal protections for abortion, Cox said the commitment to the welfare of children should continue after birth.
“If Utah truly believes in supporting life, we must always show our commitment with more than words,” Cox said. “That’s why I am also proposing this session a first-of-its-kind tax credit for all children – the born and the unborn. We must also expand postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.”
Don’t demonize farmers on water
While noting that his “mocked” prayers for more water have been answered, Cox noted that the drought isn’t over and work still needs to be done to ensure there’s enough water resources for growth in the state – an issue that has been at the forefront in Southern Utah.
But while calling for an additional $500 million in water conservation funding on top of the $500 million from last year, and hoping for a repeat of residents’ conservation efforts from 2022, Cox said he hoped people wouldn’t just single out the agriculture industry and the rural farmers and ranchers.
“Please look beyond those that would demonize our farmers. Our farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our nation and state,” Cox said. “I promise they will be a huge part of the solution, just like you and me.”
Cox also called on other “policy changes” to reduce water use in the state.
Cox calls for more starter homes
Going back to the subject of the future for the young people of Utah, Cox addressed the need to find an affordable place to live. Southern Utah is dealing with a need for more affordable housing tempered with the aversion of some to more growth.
Cox said he wants to reform the requirements on builders that he said increased the cost of new homes.
“We can build more and do it in a way that does not diminish the quality of life,” Cox said. “Smart density, in the right places, paired with improved infrastructure from wise investments, and a renewed emphasis on single-family starter homes – remember those? – will make certain that Utah does not become like California and that future generations will be able to call this state home.”
‘Year of the Teacher’
Continuing on a theme he has emphasized in the last few months, Cox once again pushed for what he said would be the largest raise for teachers in the state in its history.
But he also said while politicians have thanked teachers for the work they did through the pandemic and the work they continue to do, he fears teachers aren’t feeling the thanks from Utahns like they should.
“I worry that our teachers haven’t felt that love from Utah’s silent majority quite like they should,” Cox said. “Teaching was once a destination profession and it can be again.
Without addressing it directly, Cox eluded to a difference he has had with members of the legislature who say a voucher to go toward residents placing their children in private schools should be included with a teacher raise. Cox said doing more for teachers will bring a bigger bang for the buck.
“If we ran an experiment with two identical students, and you let me pick the teacher, and I let you pick everything else: the school, the curriculum, the books, the software and electronics, the administration, I will win every time.”
A month after banning TikTok from state-owned devices, Cox’s expression turned stern about other social media sites for what he said is their, and the nations, lack of action on how social media is affecting the mental health of those 10 to 19 years old.
“In Utah, we’re done waiting for someone else to solve the problem. To the social media companies who have been reckless in protecting our youth, Utah parents are putting you on notice,” Cox said. “If you insist on fighting us, be assured that we are more than ready for a fight and we will win. Or you can join us and be part of the solution.”
In another initiative aimed at troubled youth, Cox said he will be soon announcing a large expansion of the state’s foster care program.
“Utah can be the first state in the nation to have no children waiting for a foster family,” Cox said. “Imagine that. Instead of children waiting for families, Utah will have families waiting for children.”
‘Build more, tear down less’
While not specifically addrerssing potential bills that would effect or place limits on transgender and other LGBTQ people – bills Cox has in the past either opposed or asked to be tempered – Cox asked legislators directly in his speech to veer away from what he has, in the past, called divisive issues.
“Rather than spreading fear, let’s build more and tear down less,” said Cox, who then eluded to a “little plans” quote by Chicago architecture pioneer Daniel Burnham. “Let’s renew again our determination to focus on doing the big things, the hard things that matter. Let’s make no little plans for they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”
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