Lt. Governor Bell; President Waddoups; Speaker Lockhart; Members of the Utah Legislature; Members of my Cabinet; Utah Supreme Court Justices; The State's First Lady, My Wife Jeanette; and my fellow Utahns:
It is indeed an honor and a pleasure to join you in this historic chamber this evening. On the north wall of this room appears a tribute to the women of Utah and those who worked to secure the right of women to vote. Over the years many have pioneered the way in this hall, including our first female governor, Olene Walker. But tonight marks the first time a woman leads the Utah House of Representatives. I am delighted to be the first Governor to say, "Congratulations, Madame Speaker!"
It is fitting and right, at a time of international conflict, that we recognize those who defend and protect us, both on the battlefield abroad and here at home. We appreciate your sacrifice and we honor your service. One whose life was nearly lost is Brody Young, a State Park Ranger and, more importantly, husband of Wendy Young, and father to Stryder, Jade, and Jagger. On the night of November 19th, while on patrol at Poison Spider Mesa trailhead, he was shot nine times. I spoke with him earlier today. He is healing and his spirits are strong. While we highlight Brody for his heroism, we also acknowledge the service and sacrifice of all other public safety officers and their families. Tonight Brody and his family are watching this broadcast on television. Please join me in honoring Brody and all our dedicated peace officers.
Last night our President delivered the State of the Union. Tonight, we focus on Utah. I am pleased to say that despite our challenges, the state of our State is strong and its course is sure. It is my desire that the actions we take in this capitol, this session, will keep our state on the road to recovery and return Utah to prosperity
As I survey this great State of Utah, I recognize we have challenges and opportunities. While many states face multi-billion dollar deficits, we're fortunate Utah's budget, though difficult, is manageable. Our current unemployment is too high and many households are hurting. Still, Utah's unemployment rate continues to be better than the national average. I understand that more Utah families now rely on food stamps, and too many homes have been lost to foreclosure, and we're not out of the woods yet. But the good news is the outlook is improving. Fewer people are filing new unemployment claims, housing starts are expected to increase and the market is showing increased consumer and business confidence.
As a state, we are focused on getting people back to work. We have made the tough choices. We streamlined services, we modernized, and we became more efficient. When I began my service to the State as Lt. Governor, there was one state employee for every 122 Utah residents, but thanks to the ability of our great state employees to do more with less, there is now one state employee for every 136 Utahns. We've done so while continuing to provide the basic services people need-while keeping taxes low.
My father was a building contractor. When he was building homes, he always made certain the foundation was strong, the walls were sturdy, and the roof never leaked. This session, we are tasked by the citizens - the people who hired us to do the job - to make certain the "house" we call Utah is solid and strong. Like any good contractor, before he took on a new project my father asked a few basic questions: Are we following the blueprints? Will the project pencil out? Are we building what the customer wants? I'd like us to keep those questions in mind as we focus on the State's road to recovery and our return to prosperity.
Like any sound structure, Utah's future prosperity will be built upon four cornerstones - education, energy development, job creation, and Utah's ability to solve its own problems. EDUCATION is the first cornerstone because an educated workforce is not just critical, it is essential for a prosperous economy. One of Utah's strengths is that we have the fastest growing population in the country. This impacts our classrooms. In the past two years alone, we added over 25,000 new elementary school students. But due to declining tax revenues, our schools and our teachers had to be innovative to absorb that growth. However, we can add only so much water to the soup without diluting the quality. This year we will add another 14,700 students.
However, the good news is that for the first time in three years, because of economic expansion, we have the opportunity to fund this growth in our public and charter schools. Therefore, in this legislative session, funding our children's education MUST BE OUR NUMBER ONE BUDGET PRIORITY.
Last year at the State of the State, I announced the creation of my Education Excellence Commission. This Commission, which I chair, includes leaders and experts across the state and across all disciplines, including six of your fellow legislators. Together, we spent hundreds of hours developing this long-term action plan that you now have on your desks. The vision of this plan is that by the year 2020, 66% of Utahns, ages 20 to 64 will have a postsecondary degree or professional certification.
The pattern holds true from Dixie State to Utah State -higher education success translates into economic success. For example, the University of Utah is not just a new PAC-12 contender on the playing field; it is a national champion in the classroom and in the laboratory. Last year, the U of U surpassed MIT to take the top spot in the country for the number of start-up companies with their beginnings in university research. This extraordinary goal of 66% by 2020 is indeed ambitious - and it will not be accomplished overnight. But we must be bold and we must begin NOW.
That is why this action plan also includes eight specific proposals, the initial steps recommended unanimously by the Commission members, proposals that I ask you to address this session. These initiatives include ensuring reading proficiency by the third grade, and matching classroom instruction to real-world jobs-especially in the areas of science, engineering and math.
The pathway to success in post-secondary education, which leads to economic prosperity as an adult, begins in elementary school as a child. That is why another of the eight proposals focuses on all-day kindergarten. I have listened as teachers and parents explain how this optional, Utah-crafted program helps our youngest, most at-risk students, and improves their ability to meet their future job-ready. I have also seen the data. The message is clear - investing in our children today, benefits all of us tomorrow.
A second cornerstone of Utah's economic viability is one that we have taken for granted far too long-low-cost and reliable supplies of ENERGY. Utah businesses compete better and are more successful because Utah has lower energy costs than most other states. Companies relocate to Utah - and, therefore, create jobs - because of Utah's affordable and stable electricity. Indeed, the cost of electricity in Utah is among the lowest of any state and the price of a kilowatt-hour has held steady for the past twenty years.
Equally important, Utah's energy industries create tens of thousands of jobs, and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy. Tax revenues from energy-related jobs amounted to over 200 million dollars last year alone. Utah has been abundantly blessed with massive reserves of energy resources. We are a state that is largely energy independent. In fact, we are a net exporter of electricity. While many other states, and indeed our nation, have compromised or abandoned their energy independence, here in Utah, WE WILL NOT!
We simply cannot put the economic fate of future generations in peril by relying upon others for our energy needs. But in the world of energy, we must face new realities, we must confront new challenges, and we must envision and act upon new opportunities! Last year I called for the development of a ten-year strategic energy plan for Utah. To oversee the process, I assembled many of Utah's brightest and most talented minds from the energy arena. We sought and received a strong public response from many stakeholders in public hearings around the state. Soon, each of you will receive the final report.
There are major energy challenges ahead. For example, too few capital improvements have been made to Utah's energy infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be required to upgrade and expand Utah's electricity generation and transmission systems. Our reliance upon traditional fuels is being challenged. Yes, renewable energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal, will play an expanding and important role. However, the "base load"- the very foundation of Utah's energy-will, most assuredly, be provided by either fossil or nuclear fuels. Every state has to face that simple reality, and more than 30 states have chosen to include nuclear power in their energy portfolio. We must begin substantive debate and deliberation of whether there is a place for nuclear energy in Utah.
Just as I know of Utah's extraordinary natural resources, I am convinced we have even greater human resources. In Utah, we have some of the best energy minds and the greatest expertise of any place in the world. Our universities and industries must rise to the occasion and create new technologies that will make our traditional resources more economically and environmentally viable. In Utah, we have a spirit of technical innovation and pioneer determination that will enable us to keep energy affordable, supplies stable, and our economic future secure.
The third cornerstone essential to our return to prosperity is all about JOBS. My vision for economic development is that Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination. In Utah, we know, it is the private sector, not government, that creates jobs. And those jobs are being created through the expansion of homegrown Utah companies, as well as new companies relocating to our state. Some of the most recognized businesses in the world now call Utah home - companies like Adobe, Proctor and Gamble, eBay, Litehouse Foods, Disney, Goldman Sachs, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, to name just a few. Additionally, local Utah businesses are expanding, like Petersen Inc, Nelson Laboratories, Lineagen, Merit Medical, Edwards Lifesciences, IMFlash, and Overstock.com.
To accelerate this job creation across the state, we must focus on three key areas: First, we must increase access to capital, for our small and start up businesses. We must ensure that the Utah Fund of Funds, created by the Legislature three years ago, is focused on assisting UTAH companies. Second, we must expand our GLOBAL vision. Utah's export growth is the strongest in the nation. To ensure a continued focus on international business, I challenge Lew Cramer and other international business leaders to double Utah exports in the next five years. Third, I urge the Legislature to pass Senator Ralph Okerlund's Business Expansion and Retention bill to support companies throughout rural Utah. Utah has been recognized time and again as a pro-business state, including, for the first time in our state's history, a #1 ranking from Forbes as the "Best State for Business and Careers" in America.
I am thrilled but not surprised - we are the best place for business because we have the best people for business.
However, the competition is getting tougher. My fellow governors across the country have all promised to improve their state economies. They are gunning for Utah's top spot for job growth. To stay ahead of the competition we must refine, distinguish, and promote our competitive advantages.
One of those advantages is our unprecedented partnerships. I thank Senator Scott Jenkins for running legislation to create a Governor's Economic Development Coordinating Council. This council will ensure that the collective efforts of government and the business community are focused on jobs, jobs and more JOBS. This collaboration will be further enhanced by the co-location of many economic development entities into a building, that I am pleased to announce tonight will be Utah's own World Trade Center, located in downtown Salt Lake City.
Two of the most important ways government can nurture a business-friendly environment are 1) to keep taxes low and 2) make regulation fair. Many states are raising taxes. In Utah, we are in the enviable position of being able to keep taxes low and still pay for essential services - because we saved for a rainy day when times were good, knowing a storm would eventually come. Despite this ongoing economic gale, my budget maintains at least 110 million dollars in the Rainy Day Fund and reflects my commitment to keeping taxes low. Increasing taxes on our citizens and businesses will be counterproductive to economic recovery.
I understand that the purpose of government regulation is to maintain a level playing field. As a small business owner, I have also experienced the cost and frustration of over-reaching and irrational regulation. In order to separate regulations that serve an important purpose, from those regulations that serve no purpose at all, I have asked each member of my Cabinet to review existing business regulations and determine which could be kept, which should be modified, and which will be eliminated.
Last year I created the Governor's Commission to Optimize State Government, chaired by former Governor Norm Bangerter. Its mission was to conduct a performance audit of every aspect of state government. After a year long review, they said: "One thing is clear . . . Utahns can rest assured that their tax dollars are being spent efficiently and effectively."
But the best managed state can do even better. That is why we are addressing all 56 Commission recommendations to make government even more efficient. I invite all citizens to follow the progress we are making at optimize.utah.gov, because the government of Utah belongs to the people of Utah.
The final cornerstone we must secure is the SPIRIT OF SELF-DETERMINATION, the ability to address Utah problems with Utah solutions. I firmly believe - If we as a state fail to vigorously fight to protect and defend our rights under the Constitution, those rights will invariably be seized and usurped by the federal government. I remind Washington, we are a state, not a colony, and I assure you, on my watch, Utah will not stand idly by.
In fact, we and 26 other states are asserting our right and our obligation to say no to an unconstitutional federal health care program. Over the past three years we have worked closely with you in the Legislature to create solutions to reform Utah's health care system. We are also taking the lead to rein in outrageous cost increases in federally mandated entitlement programs, before those costs further impair our ability to fund education and other vital state services.
In the election last November, the people sent a message that federal domination must give way to mutual collaboration. Unfortunately, that message was promptly ignored. Two days before Christmas, while most of us were spending time with family and friends, federal officials at the US Department of Interior secretly prepared an order to announce a new wild lands designation on public lands. With NO public input, with NO state input, this pronouncement threatens years of collaboration and rural economic progress. Let me be clear -this process and the resulting policy are FLAT OUT WRONG!
I find it equally unacceptable that the federal government intrudes in Utah classrooms, while it fails to protect and secure our borders! On issues like immigration, where the federal government has abdicated its responsibility and stepped aside, we must step forward. We have been sent here by the voters to find solutions to tough issues. Immigration reform is but one example of how we must achieve a new level of collaboration, commitment, and initiative. As we undertake this work, let us never forget our obligation to respect each other - even when we disagree, to engage in civil dialogue, to temper passion with reason and let us remember our common goal to secure the best outcomes for all people of this great state.
Let me conclude by saying I get it. I am a parent. I am a grandparent. The challenges faced by every Utah family, including my own, are lively topics of discussion when our family gets together every Sunday for dinner. I know the pressures of providing for a family, and the challenges of running a small family business. I still do the grocery shopping, and, yes, I do know the cost of a gallon of milk. I know what it's like to worry for my family, and I know what it's like to worry for our state.
I get it - and I know that you get it, too. As elected officials, each of us has been given a mandate and the voice of the Utah voter rings loud and clear: STRENGTHEN UTAH'S ECONOMY! The four cornerstones I have outlined tonight are straightforward. But none are easy. All will require strength and discipline, adherence to principles of frugality and common sense, and a spirit of collaboration, partnership and leadership. We are Utahns and we are up to the challenge. My unrelenting belief in the people of Utah-in who we are, and what we stand for-is stronger than ever. Our house is well-built. The foundation is sturdy. And despite the economic storm, the roof isn't leaking and the basement isn't flooding.
My pledge to you tonight is that I will do not only the simple things; I will do the difficult things to enable growth and a return to prosperity. Education, energy development, job creation, and self-determination are at the heart of what has made America great. And they are the four cornerstones of Utah's strength.
This is the State of our State and I stand proudly for who we are and where we are going. I want to take time to thank you for your service, and dedication. May God bless you in your efforts, and may God continue to bless America and the great State of Utah.