SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert delivered his annual State of the State address to the Utah State Legislature, asking lawmakers to work with him and announcing new initiatives on education and air quality.
"The state of our state is strong, and I think most of us would say the state of our state is outstanding!" Herbert declared to applause from the House and Senate on Wednesday night. "That being said, I believe that we can do better."
The governor acknowledged that rural Utah has not fared as well in the economic good times that urban areas have seen. He pledged to do more to help smaller cities.
"Whether you live in Blanding or Bear River, Parowan or Plain City, I pledge to you tonight we will not rest until all 29 counties and all 245 cities and towns in our state are full participants in Utah's tremendous economic success," he said.
Herbert urged lawmakers to make education a top priority. He challenged school employees to work to raise the state's graduation rate to 90-percent. The governor called on the legislature to improve air quality and invest in programs and technology that will "actually work."
The governor announced that Tesoro had agreed to produce cleaner Tier 3 fuel, and he expected other refineries in Utah to follow suit.
Taking a swipe at Obamacare as "fundamentally flawed," the governor asked lawmakers to fund healthcare coverage for the poorest in Utah.
"We can speak out in defiance, we can choose to ignore them," he said. "Or we can work together to actually do something. My friends in the Legislature, it is time to find a solution. This problem is not going to go away."
Reacting to the speech, Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said the state needs to fund full Medicaid expansion (he is running a bill this session that would do that).
"How come we keep blaming the federal government for the problems that are ours?" Davis said.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, called on the governor to push for an increase in the minimum wage, noting a bill had been filed to raise it to $12 an hour.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said Wednesday night that he believed a healthcare bill would be coming this session. Last year, lawmakers negotiated but failed to pass anything. Republicans and the governor disagreed on how much taxpayer money to spend and how many would be covered.
Hughes told FOX 13 any bill would be smaller than what was proposed last year, noting the increase in spending the governor was asking for other things, like education.
"It would be measured, it would be smaller I think in terms of scale than what we've seen in the past, but the dollars speak to that," he said. "In terms of what funds are available to us."
The House Speaker said he and the governor were on the same page on a lot of things. The governor told lawmakers during his speech he was asking for no new debt and no new taxes in his proposed budget. He touted efficiencies in state government, asking lawmakers to eliminate outdated state code.
Overall, Herbert's speech got positive reviews. His Democratic challenger for governor, Mike Weinholtz, called it "good" and said he hoped Herbert could accomplish his initiatives. The governor's challenger for the GOP nomination, Jonathan Johnson, planned to respond in a "tell-town hall" on Thursday night.
"I thought it was strong and bold," said Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake. "I thought he really presented an olive branch to the legislature and said let's work together."
The full text of Herbert's address as provided by the Governor's Office is embedded below: