Utah’s governor gives non-traditional ‘State of the State’ address, urges collaboration in government

SALT LAKE CITY -- In a speech to the state that at times brimmed with laughter and tears, Gov. Gary Herbert gave an optimistic report of Utah's health.

"Each year, I am required by the Constitution to present to the legislature the State of the State," he said. "And each year, I have been pleased to report that our state is healthy, it's growing and it's very successful. This year, my overall report is more optimistic than ever."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivers his annual State of the State address on Jan. 24, 2018. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The governor called on the Utah State Legislature to prioritize education funding, update the tax code while keeping taxes low and think proactively about transportation and infrastructure, and patching holes in the social safety net.

"You already know that although we have continued to reduce overall emissions, we need to do much more to encourage responsible choices and pursue evidence-based improvements for our air quality," he said.

Watch the full speech at the bottom of this article.

Gov. Herbert shifted his remarks to focus on "the good that comes from doing the hard things."

"I would like to talk about building our future together, about how we perpetuate our unique culture of self-reliance and personal responsibility, and how, together, we can build a better, a kinder and more civil world," he said.

Noting 1,277 bills filed in the 2018 legislature, the governor called on lawmakers to prioritize their work. He also spoke of the #MeToo movement when referencing his granddaughter.

"Will her experience and training match the economic opportunities here? Will she find a workplace that protects her from harassment and gives her equal opportunity for her equal potential?" he asked. "As she pursues the American dream, will our culture reflect the ideal of human dignity found in our Declaration of Independence? Will our society honor the fundamental rights guaranteed to all of us in our Constitution?"

"This is why we are here: to ensure that the answer to these questions is a resounding and emphatic 'yes.'"

Pivoting to collaboration, Gov. Herbert called on government to collaborate with private sector. He spoke of a Wasatch Front tech company that partnered with students in rural Carbon County to give them extra classroom support.

He also spoke of Utahns working to bring power to Puerto Rico, including his own Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, who traveled to the island to volunteer with rebuilding efforts.

"Perhaps the best example of working together on a tough issue is when we said 'No more!' to the lawlessness of the Rio Grande neighborhood," the governor said, referencing the crackdown on crime in the downtown neighborhood. The governor referenced House Speaker Greg Hughes' mantra of "no credit, no blame" when talking about cleaning up the area.

He insisted people in the neighborhood where the downtown homeless shelters are located are seeing hope.

House and Senate Democrats respond to Governor Gary Herbert's State of the State speech. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"Unfortunately, there is another group of Utahns who also need greater hope," he said, calling lawmakers to do more to address the state's suicide epidemic.

"This session, we will find solutions," he vowed, pounding the podium for emphasis.

The governor wrapped up his speech calling on lawmakers to remember in times of bruised egos and short tempers, the selfless love of Matt Hillyard, the son of Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. A fixture on Capitol Hill, Matt, who had Down Syndrome, died at age 42 earlier this month.

"Matt loved unconditionally. In Matt's eyes, there were only winners, no losers. Matt taught me to live each day to its fullest," the governor said.

His remarks brought lawmakers to their feet with applause.

In their own response, House and Senate Democrats said there wasn't much they disagreed with the governor about. Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said they preferred to focus on their own policies including increased spending for education (he backed the Our Schools Now initiative) and a $100 million bond for affordable housing in Utah.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said those policies also include equal pay, paid family leave,  and expanded health care.

"We are promoting policies that are concrete, that are specific, and that will, if implemented will have a dramatic impact to improve the welfare and well being of working families," Rep. King said.

Gov. Herbert's full speech is embedded below: