SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox delivered his first "State of the State" address in unusual times.
He cut the traditional speech short, partly to avoid a COVID-19 super-spreader event on Capitol Hill with lawmakers packed inside the House chamber (which wasn't as full as previous years). Some members of the House and Senate watched from home.
"Making it, we believe, the shortest State of the State speech in Utah history," Gov. Cox joked, adding: "In the name of brevity, I’ve even removed the carefully orchestrated applause lines."
But the governor pivoted to the serious topic of COVID-19, noting the toll the deadly virus has taken on the state.
"More than 1,500 Utahns are not with us tonight because of this insidious disease. Our healthcare professionals, public health servants, first responders, businesses, workers, seniors and children, truly every single citizen of this state has made enormous sacrifices to save lives and keep our economy open," he said.
The governor praised school teachers for working in difficult circumstances.
"They deserve our respect and they deserve a raise," he said. "I’m grateful to you legislators who agree and have pledged historic education funding this year, including $112 million dollars in bonuses for our teachers. In addition, I have proposed a nearly 6% increase in our state’s education funding — more than $400 million in all."
Gov. Cox called for lawmakers to continue to boost education funding and pushed equity, particularly for children in rural Utah and communities of color. He also pushed for more inclusive measures.
Watch Gov. Cox's State of the State address:
"Over the past year we have had some critical conversations around race and justice. And if I can be so bold, putting up a sign or joining a rally isn’t enough. The best way we can bring to life the American promise — of liberty and justice for all — is to make sure that every single child, brown or Black, rural or urban has the same opportunity as every other child," he said.
The governor said Utah is experiencing growth, but it brings challenges with air quality, transportation, affordable housing and water. The governor praised legislators for pushing tax cuts this year.
"By providing an $80 million tax cut targeted at senior citizens and Utah families, we can improve the quality of life for scores of Utahns, while simultaneously investing significant new funding for transportation, water, recreation and broadband infrastructure that will benefit every Utahn on and off the Wasatch Front for generations to come," he said.
Rural Utah remains a focus for the governor from Fairview. He pushed for investments in job training — including trade and technical schools.
"We must overcome once and for all this terrible idea that every child needs a bachelor’s degree to be successful. It’s bad for our kids and it’s bad for our economy. Helping our children and adults find the pathway that is right for them will strengthen families and our economy," Gov. Cox said.
The governor issued a final call for unity and putting aside political bickering.
"That, of course, does not mean that we should never disagree. I’m going to veto some of your bills," he told lawmakers. "Probably more than my predecessors. Please don’t take it personally. You are going to override some of those vetoes. I promise not to take that personally. It doesn’t mean that I’m bad or you’re weak. It is simply part of a process. A gloriously messy and inspired process."
He called out those who protested state health officials over COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting they find something better to do with their time.
"Instead of protesting at a healthcare leader’s personal residence, consider taking some time to volunteer at the local food bank. Instead of posting on Facebook, walk across the street to check on your neighbor. Instead of listening to another talking head on cable news, try listening to a new friend who looks or thinks a little differently than you," he said.
In their official response to the speech, House and Senate Democrats spoke positively about the governor's address.
"As Democrats, we’re glad to see Utah’s executive leadership coming around to our point of view and proposing policies and actions that democrats have long been fighting for," said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, praised the governor for his efforts to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
But Democrats also took time to outline their priorities. They included fighting for fair redistricting, broadband internet access and addressing systemic racism.
Watch the Democratic response to the State of the State address here: