CEDAR CITY, Utah — Gov. Spencer Cox signed a series of bills Monday to increase prosperity in rural Utah.
Appearing with a group of lawmakers at Southern Utah University, where he has opened an office specifically focused on rural issues, the governor touted resolutions and bills passed by the legislature with an eye toward advancing rural interests.
"If you’re on the Wasatch Front, you may think 'Well, why do I care about that?'" the governor said in an interview Monday with FOX 13. "But this will allow businesses to grow and expand and relocate off the Wasatch Front where we have air quality issues, we have transportation issues, those types of things. So when rural Utah thrives, it benefits the entire state."
In anticipation of a political fight, Gov. Cox signed House Concurrent Resolution 12. Its sponsor, Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, said it urges President Joe Biden to give the state "a seat at the table" as he reviews whether to reinstate the original boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. President Trump shrunk both monuments.
"Personally, I think they’ll enlarge the boundaries back to what it was," Rep. Albrecht told FOX 13. "Hopefully, we can solve the Antiquities Act in the meantime, if we got some federal legislation that says 'Let’s stop kicking this thing back and forth.'"
The governor also signed House Concurrent Resolution 19, which recognized Farmers Feeding Utah, an effort where farmers donated excess crops to help Utahns who have been going hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also signed House Bill 224 that provides Utahns with seeds for drought and pollinator-friendly plants. It's an effort to help save the Beehive State's declining bee populations.
"We’re incentivizing land owners to be planting these pollinator-friendly, drought tolerant, water friendly plants," said Rep. Ashlee Matthews, D-Kearns. "They’re the smallest, hardest working Utahns that basically help put food on the table."
Two of the biggest bills signed by the governor on Monday help boost rural Utah's struggling economy. Some counties, Gov. Cox pointed out, have not fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008.
Senate Bill 194 provides funds to reinvest in struggling Main Streets across rural Utah. But the biggest bill, House Bill 356, would offer a stunning 50% in post-performance tax incentives for companies to expand or locate into rural Utah.
"It’s important to rural Utah to get some of those businesses off the Wasatch Front, companies out-of-state locating in rural Utah, or existing companies want to build new facilities," said Rep. Albrecht, who sponsored HB356.
Stephen Lisonbee, the governor's senior advisor for rural affairs, said it was not to take away anything positive from urban areas. Instead, it would help alleviate problems like air quality and traffic congestion.
"We’re simply incentivizing them to expand and grow in rural Utah where we have the opportunity with an available workforce, infrastructure availability and options are better," he told FOX 13. "It’s more of, if you’re going to grow, grow rural."
Gov. Cox said one of rural Utah's biggest exports right now is its children.
"So often we have to export our kids to the Wasatch Front or out of state," he said. "We really want opportunities for our kids to stay at home, raise their families there and bless the lives of everyone in these areas."