ST. GEORGE — In his first State of the State Address, Gov. Spencer Cox shared his agenda for expanded education and infrastructure funding, a push what he called “educational equity” and continued to call for civility and unity over division and tribalism.
Held in the House chamber of the State Capitol on Thursday evening, the Republican governor’s address ran 15 minutes, which he jokingly said is believed to be “the shortest State of the State speech in Utah history.”
The speech was kept short to help limit potential exposure to COVID-19, Cox said, while also noting that the chamber’s gallery was empty, with would-be guests and family members of lawmakers who would have otherwise attended watching from home.
From here, Cox’s comments took a more serious tone as he spoke of the pandemic’s impact on the state.
“More than 1,500 Utahns are not with us tonight because of this insidious disease,” he said and thanked the state’s healthcare workers, other essential workers and residents’ sacrifices across the state to save lives and keep the economy open.
“Tonight we salute you and say to all Utahns that help is on the way,” Cox said. “Vaccines are being administered as we speak. The changes we have made to vaccine distribution are working and the end to this pandemic is in sight.”
The governor went on to laud the state’s recent economic successes but said the state needs to address educational inequities, specifically for children in rural Utah and communities of color, to disrupt intergenerational poverty in the state.
Cox added, “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.”
The governor also thanked the state’s teachers for their sacrifices over the last year as they and their students have had to adapt to the pandemic.
As a part of his education funding recommendations for the year, Cox has asked the Legislature to approve $112 million in teacher bonuses. He has also proposed a nearly 6% increase to the state’s education funding – more than $400 million – that he said he hopes will become a routine.
In addition to expanded education funding, Cox said the state needs to expand its infrastructure funding in the areas of water, transportation, rural broadband access and so on. He also recommended an $80 million tax cut for older residents and families.
However, Cox added that the state’s greatest infrastructure investment would be its people.
“All the jobs in the world are meaningless if our people aren’t qualified for those jobs. Job growth or GDP growth must never be seen as an end in itself. Economic growth is merely a means to an end … and that end is that the people of Utah can achieve the American dream.”
To help accomplish this, Cox has called for increases in job training programs, up-skilling and more funding for the state’s 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,” the governor said “Helping our children — and adults — find the pathway that is right for them will strengthen families and our economy.”
Cox also used the speech to denounce political tribalism and division. He told fellow lawmakers that he may not agree with them on everything but said they must not take those decisions personally.
The governor said he will likely veto some of their bills, and they will likely override some of his vetoes. It’s all a part of “a gloriously messy and inspired process,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m bad or you’re weak.”
“There must be no room for contempt or hate,” Cox said. “We are friends. We must always be friends.”
The state’s Democratic leaders also pushed a message of unity in their response. Rep. Brian King, the House minority leader, said he supports many of Cox’s top budget priorities and looks forward to working with him.
“We’re not interested in political posturing or divisiveness,” King said. “We are here as public servants to solve problems and to get things done.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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