SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is on the road to economic recovery and the federal government needs to get out of its way, Gov. Gary Herbert said.
"Our state is growing now, and as we look to the horizon, Utah's growth prospects are truly bright," he said, noting that is something not many governors can say.
Herbert sounded many of the same themes in his State of the State speech Wednesday as he did last year, though this time backed with national recognition of the state's economy.
And the Republican governor is likely to hit those same highlights as he campaigns this year for re-election.
Herbert's campaign urged potential supporters in an email to watch or listen to his speech Wednesday and touted what he's calling "The Utah Advantage." The email contained a link to a website with several canned messages people could post on Twitter during the speech such as "I agree with Governor Herbert, keep Washington out of Utah's way! RT if you agree!"
The governor took several shots at the federal government, drawing loud cheers and a standing ovation from fellow Republicans for saying, "be assured that this governor is firmly resolved to fortify our state as bulwark against federal overreach."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said GOP lawmakers have for years pushed state sovereignty.
"It's encouraging to hear the governor is going to be a partner with us in that fight," she said.
Herbert was appointed in May 2009 to replace Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. who resigned to become ambassador to China. Herbert won a special election in 2010 to fill the last two years of Huntsman's term. He is now running for a full four-year term.
"I heard certain components of a re-election speech, said Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, mentioning the times Herbert "called out" the federal government.
But Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he didn't hear that at all.
"To be honest, it never crossed my mind that he's running for re-election," he said. "He hit the issues that I think Utahns are concerned about."
While the national economic future remains tenuous, Herbert said, the Utah economy surges ahead. The unemployment rate continues to steadily fall and the state currently has the second-fastest rate of job creation in the nation. Also, Forbes magazine again named it the best place in the nation for business, he said.
"Every sector in our economy is growing again, except one," Herbert said. "And I'm proud to say the sector that is not growing is state government."
The governor said he will continue to focus on growing the economy because a strong economy fosters healthy communities and prosperous families. He said his goal is to help the private sector add 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days.
"Government must create an environment where free enterprise can succeed and then get out of the way," he said, adding that he won't support any tax increases.
Herbert blamed "overreaching, out-of-control and out-of-touch" federal government regulation for causing the most harm to Utah businesses. He said he would work with the state's congressional delegation to "tell the Washington bureaucrats to get out of the way of Utah's economic recovery, and stop the senseless flow of onerous and misguided regulation from our nation's capitol."
The comment drew a standing ovation from GOP lawmakers, while Democrats remained seated.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, said she found references to keep the federal government of Utah's business "ironic" because the state received more money for flood mitigation than any other state. Also, she said job programs often are done in partnership with the federal government.
"It's a little disingenuous to say we don't want their help," she said.
The governor said his top legislative priority this year is to fund growth and innovation in the state's education system. His proposed budget contains an additional $111 million for public schools, including a "modest" pay raise for teachers.
Democrats said Herbert's education plans reflect what they have been saying for a long time. And now that the state's economy is headed in the right direction, they said it is time to invest in Utah schools.
Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, touted Democrats' public education plan to provide every student an excellent teacher, individualized attention, world-class curriculum and neighborhood and family support.
For many years, Utah has ranked first in business, economic development, tourism, science, technology and research, Romero said.
"So why is it that our schools continue to rank 43rd in the nation?" he said.
The “Best Schools Initiative,” Romero said, includes a funding plan that repriortizes resources without raising taxes, he said. "We simply need to change our focus in order to do what’s best for Utah’s kids."
Litvack said he's focused on what Utah can do now in education and other areas, and doesn't want to draw lines in the sand.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said the state has a history collaboration among Republicans, Democrats and the governor.
"It's not by accident" that Utah is where it is today, he said, adding he would "love" for the federal government to see the level of cooperation the state has established.