2007 State of the State Address
Salt Lake Air Base
January 16, 2007
Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.
State of Utah
Lt. Governor Gary and Jeanette Herbert;
President John and Karen Valentine;
Speaker Greg and Teresa Curtis;
Chief Justice Christine Durham;
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff;
Members of the Legislature;
My wife and best friend, Mary Kaye;
Guests and fellow Utahns;
Tonight, we meet again to review the progress, hopes, and aspirations of our State - the greatest in America.
Two years ago, we met in the historic territorial capitol in Fillmore. Last year, we gathered at Washington Elementary School in Bountiful.
Although this practice is unprecedented in State history, it has given us all an opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to one another - educators, residents of our rural communities, and members of our armed forces.
This evening may mark the last time the State of the State will be held away from Capitol Hill. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to deliver these remarks from a very significant place: the Utah National Guard's Salt Lake Air Base - a location quite ordinary in appearance, but truly extraordinary by way of mission, purpose, and people. We recognize this base is historic ground and thank General Tarbet for hosting us here tonight. It is from here that thousands of Utahns have left to fight in distant lands. It is from here where families of departing and returning soldiers have hugged loved ones and waved goodbye. It is from here that our State was among the first to respond to our fellow Americans in the aftermath of Katrina by offering desperate individuals from Louisiana a warm welcome.
Tonight, we gather to pay tribute to fellow Utahns who have preserved and protected our liberty in the past, and recognize those who fight on the frontlines today. Their united efforts ensure that we will have a free and prosperous tomorrow. We are honored to be joined by the Cawley family. Their brother and father, Marine Staff Sergeant James Cawley was the first Utahn killed nearly four years ago in the conflict in Iraq.
We also honor Robert and Paula Lehmiller who lost their son U.S. Army Specialist Michael Lehmiller in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005.
During a recent trip to the region, I witnessed first hand the struggles for freedom our soldiers died defending. At Camp Phoenix, just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, I spoke at the memorial service for 2nd Lieutenant Scott Lundell. To his wife Jeanine and four children left behind we say - you are not forgotten. All these families know what it means to give the ultimate sacrifice. Please stand and be recognized.
I realize that what we say to all grieving families who have lost loved ones are just mere words, but the sentiment conveyed by all Utahns is sincere and heartfelt: thank you for your service. And to all families temporarily separated from a loved one in service to our nation, I offer deep gratitude for your sense of duty during these uncertain times. May God keep you in His continual and watchful care.
Last year when we met, I noted that the State of our State was exceptionally strong. This year, I would like the numbers to speak for themselves. During 2006:
Nearly 60,000 new jobs were created in Utah - an historic high for our State;
Our job growth reached 5 percent, more than triple the national average;
Our unemployment rate of 2.5% reached unprecedented levels in State history and was among the lowest in the nation; and Utah was recognized as America's sixth fastest growing state.
These statistics confirm that Utah's economy is performing at record levels. From the beginning I've had one clear goal in mind: enhance economic development to provide the resources necessary to improve the education our children receive. Together, we have substantially increased our investment in Utah's public schools while simultaneously lowering the tax burden. Our strong economy, like never before, now allows us the opportunity to fortify our foundations for the future.
These foundations - which include education, the economy, quality of life, and governance - each has a set of reinforcing fundamentals. Focusing on them will drive everything I do during this legislative session. Government does not exist to solve all of our problems, but it can certainly assist in improving our pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.
My message tonight is not about new programs or the flavor of the month, but rather a desire to focus on some of the foundations of society that need our undivided attention.
The first foundation is education.
When I speak of focusing on our fundamentals, I speak of teacher compensation. Teaching must be reinforced as being among the most noble of pursuits. We must compensate fairly those who inspire our next generation of Utahns. If we hope to produce first-rate students, we must have first-rate teachers.
As I travel the State, I constantly seek input regarding our education needs from parents, teachers, and students. The responses I receive are as persuasive as they are unanimous: we must provide our teachers with a decent and competitive compensation package - one that includes not only an increase in salary, but also targeted financial incentives. Educational excellence begins with the recruitment, retention and commitment of teachers who are passionate about educating our youth - the only future we have. I refuse to stand by idly as we lose good educators to other states in our region. Together with my colleagues in the legislature, we have made significant strides in bolstering education the last two years. We can do more. We must do more.
With unprecedented revenues we can invest record amounts in our children and Utah's future as we say "Thank You" to our teachers. "Thank you" to educators like David Young, who inspires future scientists and perhaps just as importantly, has the unique ability to inspire confidence in students at Clayton Middle School. And Diane Reaveley who teaches students with special needs at Cedar Ridge Elementary. And Terry James who teaches science at Navajo Mountain High School.
These fine teachers, and thousands of their colleagues, deserve our sincere appreciation. To show this gratitude my budget calls for 18.2% in new education funding. This includes $25 million for a one-time bonus for Utah teachers in the classroom. But we must continue to do more. Much more. For these reasons, my complete education proposal - which includes a 9% increase in compensation - represents the largest total public education budget in our State's history.
By fundamentals, I speak of early childhood education - mastering the key pillars of literacy by third grade in reading, writing and math, where all the experts have identified the potential for the greatest gains. If you give a child literacy by third grade, you have increased dramatically the chance for success later on. Extended-day kindergarten provides the time necessary and direct assistance to our students who are most at risk. The $7.5 million I have requested will make extended-day kindergarten a reality for every district, charter, and Title I school - and for more than 10,000 students who need it most.
By fundamentals, I speak of the basic environment for learning, some call it class size. We can make a difference this year by supporting our proposal for a student-to-teacher-ratio, with a goal of no more than 20 students per adult for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. This is a beginning, but we must start somewhere.
By fundamentals, I mean taking the steps necessary to ensure our higher education system continues to be the capstone of our State. The percentage of people holding a college degree in many rural parts of Utah is less than the State average. Education is a window to the world and enhances one's quality of life. I ask for your support as we seek to provide more four year degree opportunities in parts of the State that for too long have been out of reach.
The second foundation is the economy.
This includes addressing our ongoing need to reform taxes, promote our industry clusters, and attract tourists from all destinations.
2006 was a banner year for Utah Business - and for companies such as ski equipment leader AmerSports, cancer drug producer Cephalon, semiconductor company IM Flash, West Liberty Foods, and Kennecott. All of these companies, and many others, either relocated their headquarters to our State or dramatically expanded their operations here.
2006 also saw the establishment of the first ever World Trade Center in Utah. This puts Utah on the map as one of the leading economic centers in the world and will serve the needs of small and medium-sized businesses looking to break into new markets.
Because of a strong economy and low unemployment, personal income growth in Utah was among the highest in the nation in 2006. This alone is a significant step in creating the economic atmosphere needed to keep our young professionals here.
By fundamentals, I also mean never letting down our guard as we seek to maintain our impressive economic growth and continue to seek ways to improve the competitive environment for companies looking to invest in Utah.
Last year, together with the Legislature, we removed half of the State portion of sales tax on food and took an initial step in adopting a flatter, fairer, income tax that will help Utah keep its competitive edge. We established a dual tax system, now recognized nationally, that gives individual taxpayers the choice of either paying under our old income tax system or simply paying a flat 5.35 percent in income taxes. As a result of this action, every Utahn will receive income tax relief.
Tonight, I propose that we take a small portion of our State's significant surplus and further assist overburdened taxpayers. To secure our viability in the next generation, I call on my friends in the legislature to help complete income tax reform by lowering the rate to five percent - along with a low-income tax credit for Utahns who need it most. I am also excited about working together to enact a single statewide sales tax rate that could then be used to continue giving relief to Utahns on life's most basic staple - food.
These tax changes are certain to strengthen our tax system and benefit Utahns for decades. But the effort must continue. And we have the opportunity to do more.
On the energy front, Utah is uniquely positioned to assist in meeting the future needs of our State and nation. My 2006 Energy Efficiency plan, one of the most aggressive in the nation, calls for an increase in efficiency of 20 percent by 2015 and we are rigorously working to that end.
Diversity in our energy portfolio ensures that we will be better positioned to avoid spikes in fuel prices and addresses energy reliability requirements for the future. A significant component of this diversity is renewable energy and I am proposing an incentive fund for use in providing "seed" money to projects utilizing alternative energy sources.
By fundamentals, I mean promoting our strengths in the film and tourism industries. Earlier this year on a tour of rural Utah, while riding across Highway 12 between Escalante and Torrey, I observed some of the most stunning views our State has to offer. It was truly a "Life Elevated" experience. Last year almost 20 million visitors learned this for themselves as they discovered the unique beauties of this State. We will continue our aggressive approach to promote the most beautiful land on Earth. It is also worth noting that last year more movies were filmed and produced in our State than ever before. Let's work together to further enhance our position as a premier film destination in the United States.
The third foundation is quality of life.
By focusing on our fundamentals, I mean alleviating congestion while we prepare to deliver more in the way of public transportation and additional options that will serve our mobility needs.
It is no secret that Utah's transportation needs continue to grow. Building roads, highways, and rail has long been a priority for Utahns. In 1848, one of my ancestors, Parley P. Pratt, explored a proposed route to provide greater mobility that today is known as Parley's Canyon. When considering today's $1.3 billion transportation budget, it is hard to imagine there was acrimony and debate over what was then a $500 price tag.
Utah's transportation needs are no less pressing today than they were 150 years ago. That is why I am asking Legislators to support significant increases in funding for basic, but critically important projects, and act now to fund corridor preservation efforts so that we can plan for desperately needed road expansions. My budget proposals will allow us to do this without incurring any new debt.
By fundamentals, I mean helping Utah children receive adequate healthcare. It is an irony that we live in a country which mandates insurance for our cars, but not for our children's health. For too long the lament over the large number of those without health insurance has been fragmented and unproductive. We must stop seeing this crisis as a one dimensional social issue. The large number of those without health insurance nationally and in our own State highlights a dilemma in defining the proper role of government and a critical challenge to the exercise of individual responsibility. I am recommending more than $4 million to lift the cap on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which will allow more than 14,000 additional Utah children access to the health care they so desperately need.
In addition to the children, there are hundreds of thousands of uninsured adults. We must stop kidding ourselves that those who are uninsured are simply not receiving health care. They are receiving care, but they are receiving too little, too late - and typically in settings such as emergency rooms where the care is much more expensive than if it had been provided elsewhere. And who is paying for this care? In rare cases it is the uninsured themselves, but in the overwhelming number of cases it is government - which, of course, means taxpayers - and, the hospitals - which, of course, means the business community - in the form of higher and higher and higher premiums for those who are buying and providing health insurance.
Tonight, I call on leaders of the business community to actively engage with advocates for the working poor as well as with health care providers and insurers to craft a solution for this growing crisis. We are fortunate in Utah to have some of the finest doctors, nurses, technicians and hospitals in the world. Let us work together to craft a solution for the uninsured which is equally impressive.
By fundamentals, I mean identifying how to help so many of our fellow citizens fight the growing addiction to methamphetamine. Mary Kaye and I have visited many young mothers like those at the House of Hope who are trying to put their lives back together again. As we have come to know them, we've heard their heartbreaking stories about how they have stumbled into this nightmare, often as a quick fix for weight loss or energy enhancement that would turn them into "super mom" - but instead resulting in children without moms and ship-wrecked families. This is a mounting epidemic that has spread statewide, which strains the State's social services, corrections, and law enforcement resources. It affects rich and poor, rural resident and urban dweller alike. It is a growing plague that we must stop. Just as the House of Hope would imply, hope is a powerful word in the English language and should permeate every corner of this State as it makes its way into the lives of recovering meth addicts. This means fortified treatment, awareness, and additional support for drug courts. Simply locking up people is a 19th century solution for a 21st century problem.
The fourth foundation is governance.
By fundamentals, I mean compensating fairly our State employees who dedicate long hours to take care of the vital functions of government. We must allow managers to provide discretionary increases to reward and retain those employees who consistently go the extra mile.
We all want a State equal to its promise. A State with more dreams than memories - one that is responsive, open and accessible.
Tonight, as part of this administration's commitment to enhancing ethics in government, through an Executive Order, I will enact a cooling-off period of two years before State employees can lobby their previous place of work. In the interest of a transparent government, we will prohibit nepotism in hiring or contracting for all Executive Branch departments. Also, from this point on, I am asking for a complete ban on gifts to any Executive Branch employee. Ethics and integrity should be a requirement within all branches of government. Tonight, I reinforce my pledge to build an Executive Branch that holds itself to a higher standard.
Finally, let me say, this is not an easy time to predict our State's future. Our greatest challenge, therefore, in a world evolving at break-neck speed is to overcome the tendency to fall back on that which is comfortable, safe, and predictable. Our State is very much at an historic crossroads and what we do now will determine whether our destiny is ordinary or extraordinary.
Regardless of our pace of change, our future success as Utahns will always depend on a few core requirements that we must get right:
First, our ability to properly educate our citizens.
Second, our competitive position in a free and global economy.
Third, our success in moving our growing population by way of effective and affordable transportation systems.
Finally, our recognition of perhaps the most important legacy of all - the sense of humanity that we will pass to future generations.
To me, this is the land we share, the air we breathe, and the compassion we show to one another in our ever-changing society.
In my inaugural address, I spoke of the need to take risks every now and then in charting our State's future. The risks I describe are not unlike the risks assumed by every family, every small business, and every soldier in the midst of combat; I am not talking about blindly rolling the dice - we'll leave that to Nevada - I am talking about fundamentally re-evaluating and debating our age-old assumptions about education, taxes, transportation, and quality of life. We are limited only by our lack of creativity and fear of the unknown.
Now is the time to be hopeful and visionary, to appreciate our exciting place in history, to lead out, and - by so doing - to capture the abundant promises of Utah's tomorrow. Those promises are within our reach, but their realization will require a concerted, conscious effort: I invite all within the sound of my voice to join me in that effort.
May God bless the people of the sovereign State of Utah, and may God Bless America.
Utah National Guard
Salt Lake Air Base
Utah Department of Agriculture
Utah Food Services