Utah State of the State Address 2006

BOUNTIFUL, Utah, Jan. 17 - The following is the prepared text of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s (R) 2006 State of the State address:

Lt. Governor Gary and Jeanette Herbert
President John and Karen Valentine
Speaker Greg and Teresa Curtis
Chief Justice Christine Durham and members of the Utah Supreme Court
Members of the Legislature
Guests and my fellow Utahns,

I begin tonight by recognizing our First Lady, Mary Kaye, whose support, hard work and commitment to service make all of us proud.

I also express a deep and heartfelt thanks to each of you for giving me the honor of a lifetime--that of serving you as your Governor. Thank you for your trust, support, constructive criticism, and interest.

To the Legislature, I truly appreciate the partnership that I have with you. There may be differences in how we see the world, but the bonds that unite us are many.

Tonight we are gathered to participate in the annual review of our State as called for by the Utah Constitution. As we begin what could be an historic legislative session, I am proud to report that the State of our State is exceptionally strong.

Last year we met in the Territorial Capitol in Fillmore and recognized the contributions that so many have made to make Utah a success, whether they were pioneers, miners, sixth-generation Utahns like my parents or newcomers like my in-laws.

This year, I thought it would be appropriate to gather here at Washington Elementary School in Bountiful to share a vision of a future where we work together to build a hopeful foundation for Utah's next generation.

Before we look ahead, let me thank those who wear our nation's uniform as members of our armed forces.

We have a special place in our hearts for those who serve, particularly for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in preserving our nation's values. We salute your service and reverence your commitment.

My direction as Governor is simple and focused: First, to seek enhanced economic freedom for all Utah citizens; second, to ensure our education system matches our children's dreams with their unique, individual abilities; third, to provide a transportation system that will allow our State to maintain its position as home to America's best quality of life; and fourth, to leave to our posterity the greatest legacy of all--a sense of humanity--and respect for our land and our way of life.

Utah's economy has fully recovered and is strong. Unemployment rates and job creation are at near historic levels. Businesses like Adam Aircraft, Cabella's and Rossignol Ski Company located to our great State. They have found something in Utah that does not exist elsewhere, and have decided to make it their home.

Utah-born entities like Ogio, Merit Medical, and Sky West continue to expand and create more jobs. Recently, Fast Company magazine listed our capitol city as one of the nation's hottest business destinations. This label is applicable statewide. Others, including our competitors, are quickly learning that something important is happening here.

I also express thanks to the great efforts of many Northern Utah workers and United States Air Force personnel, Hill Air Force Base will remain open. By keeping Hill open, we have not only avoided what could have become an economic disaster for our State, we have preserved an opportunity for thousands of Utahns to contribute meaningfully to the security of our nation. We thank them; and our grateful nation salutes them.

With the eyes of the world on our economic accomplishments, now is the time to build on this success, create more high-paying jobs, and thereby provide greater economic freedom for our citizens.

It is important to send a signal about our commitment to long-term competitiveness. One important way we can become more competitive is to reform our antiquated tax code.

First, we need a personal income tax system that is simpler, flatter, and fairer. We need to provide one of the lowest income tax rates in the West--and one that leaves more money in the pockets of taxpayers.

The income tax funds public education. We must therefore commit to long-term growth and sustainability such that our schools are adequately funded. I emphatically urge that legislators approve a flatter personal income tax rate that would lower the percentage an individual pays from seven percent to five percent. It is the wise thing to do and now is the time to act.

The time is also right to take a look at another onerous tax. Speaker Greg Curtis and I were recently discussing the history of the sales tax in this State. We agree that there was a chapter opened in our State's tax history seventy-three years ago that now needs to be closed.

During the early 1930s Utah's fiscal house was in chaos. Half of all property owners could not pay their property taxes. Families were devastated as numerous farms, homes and businesses were forced into foreclosure. The State was facing bankruptcy. In desperation, the Legislature gave Governor Henry Blood the authority to impose a tax on the one thing people had to purchase in order to survive: food. Taxing food was a drastic measure adopted as a temporary fix for a very different time.

Like so many "temporary" public-policy fixes, the initial reason for adopting this measure has come and gone but the tax has remained. Seven decades later, it continues to burden our most vulnerable citizens.

I have good news tonight. The Great Depression is long gone, and our State is in strong fiscal shape.

By making modest adjustments to our allocation of existing revenue streams--for example, by increasing the share of sales-tax revenue retained by local governments, by collecting sales tax already due our State from online purchases, by using anticipated new revenue from economic growth, and by tapping into funds I have already set aside in my budget--we can provide Utahns immediate relief at the checkout counter. Now is the time and this is the session to remove the sales tax on food!

Our State can be both competitive and compassionate as we revise our tax code to be more family friendly and fiscally responsible. Reforming the tax code, however, is not enough to secure our long-term economic prosperity.

Securing our long-term prosperity will require both a strong commitment to education and a focus on innovation to make certain the next generation can achieve their dreams here in Utah.

In the early 1970s Governor Calvin Rampton and Utah Legislators, including Senator Mike Dmitrich, established Research Park near the University of Utah. This revolutionary concept coupled the great ideas from researchers and academics with the keen commercial sense of entrepreneurs and skilled workers from our State.

The result of this coupling was groundbreaking. This "research-plus-business" combination led to the establishment of world-class businesses like Evans & Sutherland, NPS Pharmaceuticals, and Myriad Genetics. It also led to critically important research in cancer treatment, diabetes, genetics, as well as the robotic arm just to name a few. It was a risk that has paid great dividends for Utahns, and for humankind.

Today it is time to invest in the next generation of world-renown Utah innovation and ideas. As Winston Churchill said, "the empires of the future are the empires of the mind." We now have the opportunity once again to be bold and visionary as we move toward the next generation of knowledge-based, high-paying jobs. Utah can lead the nation in areas where we have comparative research advantages.

USTAR--the Utah Science, Technology, and Research Initiative--will capitalize on the unique resources of our State, such as the Utah Population Database, Genomics, Informatics, Personalized Medicine, and the talented faculty and students at the University of Utah and Utah State University. We will be uniquely positioned to produce the next generation of both life-saving discoveries and award-winning researchers if we will take this crucial step forward.

This session, I ask you to pass the legislation sponsored by Senator Al Mansell and Representative David Clark to make USTAR a brilliant reality!

Second, we must focus on education. It is important to take the necessary steps to ensure that our education system matches the individual dreams and abilities of each child. As the parents of six children, Mary Kaye and I know that each child approaches the classroom differently.

Last year our State took a significant step forward in recognizing those differences when we enacted the Carson Smith Special Needs Bill. We must also provide our educators, like Principal Carolyn Ingles and her faculty here at Washington Elementary, greater resources to meet the unprecedented needs of our growing student population. That is why I have proposed a 5.5 percent increase in the amount of money we provide for each student.

During the holidays, I had the wonderful opportunity to have my whole family living under the same roof again. I have often quipped that, while not a professional educator myself, I have been running my own clinical trials at home with children now in elementary, middle, high school, and college--each with unique personalities and abilities.

We recognize that today's youth will, on average, hold several jobs during the course of their careers, unlike earlier generations. This is a profound change in the training they will need as they prepare for the marketplace. While we cannot predict the job opportunities that our kids might encounter in the future, we can clearly make sure that they are prepared for a lifetime of learning.

The best way to accomplish this objective is to ensure that they develop a passion for knowledge. This passion must develop in a student's career, and it must reflect the increasingly important role that teachers will play in providing the necessary environment in which their students learn.

We have the need, we now have the resources, and it is time to act to make certain that Utah students are receiving a world-class education--one that will make them competitive with students from California to Connecticut and from Beijing to Brussels, and one that will help fuel their passions to ensure a generation of life-long learners.

Of course, increased funding alone is not enough to make certain that our children will thrive in the classroom. A particular group of our students are struggling with the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy. If we do not help them in their early years, they will struggle to survive academically and many will fall through the cracks and end up short of their true potential. We can provide more for them now, and by so doing help eliminate any learning achievement gaps in their future.

That is why I propose a seven million dollar voluntary, all-day kindergarten program in our Title I schools like Washington Elementary here in Bountiful. Our students who desire extra assistance need it early in their academic careers. Test scores of kindergarten students at Parkview and Bennion Elementary in Salt Lake City, where all-day programs are available, tell a story of success. Our goal is simple: We want to encourage all of our students to become lifelong learners.

Good teachers are critical to turning this goal into a reality. In recognition of that fact, I am seeking funding to enhance teacher training and incentives in the areas of math and science during the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Just as students in early grades need to master reading, children who are preparing to enter junior high school need to master the basic fundamentals of math and science. This is not all. We must carefully expand on the success of our many public charter schools.

All parents and educators must be willing to challenge our students with a more robust and rigorous curriculum. Building intellectual infrastructure by way of brainpower--whether at the elementary, secondary, or higher education level--is as crucial to our State's success as building roads, bridges, and dams. If we fail our children, we have failed our future.

Third, we need a transportation system that meets our commitment to having the best quality of life in America. Our legislative hosts here in Bountiful, Senator Dan Eastman and Representative Sheryl Allen--working together with many others who are with us tonight--recently helped us reach across a divide and finally resolve a longstanding impasse.

There were many who said it could not, would not, be done; however, thanks to many of you, traffic will soon flow on the Legacy Parkway!

Building the Legacy Parkway is but one small part of our overall transportation plan. We must continue to invest in roads and rails so that our quality of life is not unduly limited by the amount of time we spend stuck in traffic. We must preserve routes for future roads, plan for public-private partnerships, and enhance the use of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes for hybrid or environmentally friendly vehicles.

In short, we cannot have sustained economic prosperity without an adequate transportation system. As the fifth fastest-growing State in the nation, we are adding the population equivalent of one City of Ogden per year. We cannot afford to stand back and watch traffic gridlock increase.

Just like education, when it comes to funding transportation, we must begin to pay now or we will all pay dearly in the future. My budget calls for unprecedented increases in transportation funding. When it comes to improving old roads and investing in new ones, the time is now!

Prior to being elected as Governor, I was involved in running a business where I learned some very valuable lessons. For example, when times were good, there was often a temptation to spend the profit on things that did not necessarily benefit the company. The prudent course was always to reinvest a large portion of the profit back into the basic infrastructure that produced the company's products. This is known as "maintenance capital."

We are now in a position to help catch up on some "deferred maintenance" in our State and invest maintenance capital in vital areas such as education, transportation and reformation of our Elvis-era tax system.

There is a clear difference between "growing government" and "maintenance capital." Growth in government occurs when we increase the number of full-time State employees as a percentage of overall population.

Even though our State's population grew by a staggering 3.2 percent last year, this year I recommend that we increase the number of full-time State employees by no more than 1.3 percent.

If Utah is to remain competitive, if we are to lead the way in promoting education, utilizing technology, and enhancing our transportation systems, it is essential that we invest our maintenance capital wisely.

Fourth, we need to create an environment that will leave the greatest legacy of all: A sense of humanity and respect for our land.

I have had many opportunities to visit our vast and diverse State this past year. I have enjoyed an early morning breakfast on the Fourth of July in Blanding. I have traveled to historic Range Creek with Senator John Valentine and Representative Brad King. And I have toured Utah's remote West Desert with Cecil Garland, a rancher who loves the land and served as my guide. These, and many other experiences, have confirmed for me what we all know: Utahns love this land we call our home and we will fight to protect it!

When Utahns stand united, we get results. For over three decades, uranium mill tailings have sat precariously close to the banks of the Colorado River near Moab, endangering the lives of our citizens and our lands. This past year, with the help of U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and with the assistance of members of our congressional delegation, our State received a commitment that the tailings finally will be moved!

Thanks to the work of so many, we reached and agreement early last year that ensures class B and C radioactive waste will not find a home in Utah.

Even more recently, working closely with Congressman Rob Bishop and other members of our congressional delegation, we were successful in getting Congress to pass legislation that created the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area. Many said the opposition was too great, the fight a waste of resources--a losing battle. The Goliaths were supposedly going to roll right over us and win.

The Cedar Mountain Wilderness legislation, which was signed into law by President Bush two weeks ago, not only makes it extremely difficult for anyone to bring spent nuclear fuel into Skull Valley, it also preserves the integrity of the Utah Test and Training Range, the only military installation of its kind in the United States.

I have a message for the nuclear waste folks who want to use our pristine State as a dumping ground: We do not produce spent nuclear fuel, we do not benefit from it, and we will not store this deadly material in Utah!

As we look toward enhancing our environment, we are mindful of our needs for the future. Southern Utah is one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States and we must secure the needs of our citizens there. My budget calls for lifting the current caps on water-project funding, which will allow us to expedite critical projects like the Lake Powell pipeline.

As your Governor, I am committed to responsible development of our energy resources and having an energy policy that meets our economic-development objectives. The advent of new and exciting technologies means that we are poised to enter a new era of energy development and growth.

I recently toured the oil fields located in Duchesne and Uintah Counties. Hundreds of new oil and gas wells dot the landscape. Representatives Gordon Snow and John Mathis told me that so many out-of-state workers have moved into the area that it is almost impossible to find a motel room. They and Senator Beverly Evans stressed the need to complete a Utah College of Applied Technology building in Vernal so that Utah residents can be better trained to enter the exploding job market there. I agree.

As the Chief Executive of our State, I pledge to continue working to ensure that the safety and well-being of our citizens are never compromised. We learned from the Katrina disaster that preparation is crucial. We will never forget the images we all witnessed on our televisions--strangers hanging on to one another for comfort and support with nothing to protect them from certain death except a rooftop of some nondescript building.

We watched when camouflaged-clad guardsmen and women, including some from our own State, finally swept in with their protective gear, waded through chest-deep, toxic waters with grateful strangers in their arms, and carried them off to safety. I was proud of our own State employees and citizens who swung into action at a moment's notice to provide critical care and support as hundreds of those evacuees made their way into our State.

Rest assured that, as a State, we are better prepared than ever before for any such catastrophic event. I have already spoken with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt about hosting, in collaboration with our Department of Health a Governor's Summit in March to prepare for any possible avian flu pandemic. On this important issue, we in Utah will lead out, rather than stand back and react.

Before I close, I want to take a moment to thank our State employees. Whether it is Trooper Kevin Bradshaw, who patrols U.S. 89 through Fairview; Priya Noronha, a Human Services caseworker who is helping families devastated by meth addiction; or Steven Niebergall, a Utah Department of Transportation engineer who is working on the reconstruction of Interstate 84 in Morgan County, we appreciate your work and the work of your colleagues. We are anxious to make certain you receive the compensation you deserve.

Many find the world today complex, confusing, and even frightening, but let me reassure you that in Utah, our minds can be put at ease. Our State can compete in any market in the world.

As we continue to preserve freedom, value education and embrace technology, there will be no reason why our land-locked State cannot compete with any bustling port city in America, Asia, or Europe. To paraphrase my son Will, Utah rocks!

Let us never forget that, in spite of all we do as a State, the center of our universe is not in the Governor's Office, the Legislature, our businesses, or our schools; the center of our universe is in our respective homes.

It is in our homes that dreams are born, nurtured, realized, and eventually replaced by more dreams. Our commitment to our homes and each other ensures that our dreams will never be outnumbered by our memories.

May God bless the sovereign State of Utah and the United States of America.
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