SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox addressed some of the most pressing issues facing Utahns in his annual "State of the State" address.
"I firmly believe in my heart that if America is the last great hope of the world, then Utah is the last great hope of America," the governor said Thursday night in his annual address to the legislature and the people of Utah.
Addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has now killed more than 4,000 in the state, Gov. Cox predicted the latest surge driven by the omicron variant would soon end.
"While we, along with the rest of the world, find ourselves in the middle of record cases and hospitalizations, there are a few silver linings. I am encouraged that Utah currently has the sixth lowest hospitalization rate in the nation — and that our rate is less than half the national average. Experts also believe that Summit County has already started declining and assure me that the rest of the state will soon follow," the governor told a packed House chamber of mostly unmasked people.
In his speech, the governor thanked health care workers and teachers for their efforts during the pandemic. On education funding, he proposed $970 million in spending and creating a new office to help families, particularly those in need.
"A child’s zip code should never determine their future or their opportunities. This session I am also proposing the elimination of all school fees for the basic coursework required for graduation," he said.
The governor continued to pitch the legislature on his proposed food tax credit (a contrast to bills that would eliminate the state sales tax on groceries). Gov. Cox also signaled support for an income tax credit.
"With this year’s surplus, I think we can all agree that it’s time we gave some of that hard-earned money back to Utahns," he said.
The governor addressed the drought, urging support for water conservation bills already in the Utah State Legislature. He gave his support to House Speaker Brad Wilson's efforts to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake.
Gov. Cox defended Utah's election system and decried disinformation, saying voter security should never be about making it harder for legal voters to cast ballots.
"Please beware of false choices. As a conservative, I believe that we should always work to make constitutional rights more accessible, not less," he said.
The governor declared that he is not interested in fighting culture wars, speaking in support for people of faith, the LGBTQ community, refugees, immigrants, people of color and police officers. He criticized toxic politics.
"As I have traveled the state, I’ve heard some argue that the Constitution will someday, if not now, hang by a thread and need rescuing. I worry that what a few of them fail to see is that, they — just like those for whom they have so much disdain and contempt — are daily hacking away at those cords, recklessly believing that they will know exactly when to stop slicing and start saving," he said.
The governor got emotional as he called for unity.
"I pledge my hands and my heart in this work. It is our privilege to represent the great citizens of this state for but a moment in time," he said. "Let’s do the big things. Let’s do the things that matter. Real work. Hard work."
Gov. Cox's speech got praise from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
"Let me first say, there are some of Gov. Cox’s proposals that Democrats can agree with. While we might disagree on the best policy approach, our state faces many critical issues that we must come together as a legislature to resolve," said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, in a video response to the speech.
Joined by Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, they outlined Democratic priorities for affordable housing, health care, child care and other issues.
"Utahns also want us, as a legislature, to protect our democracy, not undermine it with lies and misinformation. Utahns want their elections to be fair, secure, and accessible, not needlessly and falsely maligned. We urge the governor, and our legislative colleagues, to take a stand against the extremist voices of a fringe minority," she said. "Work with us, join us where most Utahns are and let’s get things done for the people of Utah."
In their own statements, Speaker Wilson said he appreciated the governor's commitment to saving the Great Salt Lake.
"We are making large-scale, strategic investments in a few key opportunities that have the promise to provide generational impacts. I’m encouraged by the governor’s comments related to making investments in these once-in-a-generation opportunities," he said.
Great to welcome @SpencerJCox to the House chamber for the State of the State address tonight. We greatly value the strong working relationship we have with Governor Spencer Cox, and LG Deidre Henderson @LGHendersonUtah. (1/6) pic.twitter.com/pY3CVHYlfQ— Speaker Brad Wilson (@BradWilsonGOP) January 21, 2022
Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, also pledged collaboration.
"I agree with Gov. Cox that Utah is the hope of America. Our state has the opportunity to lead the nation. In the Senate, we are dedicated to improving our state today by making a better tomorrow. We will form and execute plans by investing in education, sustainable energy, water and transportation infrastructure," he said. "While we may have different opinions on how to allocate some funds and provide tax relief to Utahns, I look forward to collaborating and working with Gov. Cox and Lt. Gov. Henderson towards Utah’s collective vision."