State of the state addresses tend to be upbeat when things are going well, and it would be hard to argue against the notion that things are going exceptionally well right now in Utah.
Unemployment is hovering at about 3 percent. Major publications tout Utah as a great place to do business, and the Census Bureau just listed Utah as the nation’s third-fastest growing state in 2017.
Surprisingly, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert didn’t dwell on any of this in his Wednesday evening address, other than to briefly mention where listeners could find those statistics on the internet. Nor did he spend much time on policy priorities, other than to tell lawmakers, “I believe you already know what we need to be doing …”
That list, he said, includes updating the tax code, thinking proactively about infrastructure, transportation issues, air quality and patching the “holes” in the social safety net.
He chose instead to focus on the future and on what he called the state’s “unique spirit of collaboration.”
That is an appropriate focus, especially as Utah grapples with the effects of its growth rate in ways that will have long-lasting impacts. The governor held up a Utah codebook from 1917 as he praised the leaders of that day for making decisions that have shaped ours. He appropriately asked, “How will the decisions we make today shape Utah 100 years into the future?”
Utah does indeed have a history of finding collaborative solutions to big problems. The “Utah Compromise” of a few years ago, which brought stakeholders together to craft legislation that protects both religious liberties and the rights of the LGBTQ community, is a prime example.
The current multijurisdictional effort to separate the homeless from criminals and provide effective and specific help to reassimilate them into society is another example. The governor recently set up a wide-ranging task force to tackle the issue of teen suicide, which is yet another.
As much as Utahns like to tout these efforts, they cannot ignore that they are difficult and require sincere effort and hard work from people with a variety of private agendas. Egos must be set aside. Compromises must be made. As failures to pass a compromise Medicaid expansion bill have shown, there are no guarantees these efforts will succeed.
But occasional failures are no reason to abandon the collaborative model. In an age of hyperpartisanship and gridlock in Washington, D.C., Utah has much to offer by way of example. Plus, this generation owes something to those who will be here 100 years from now.4 comments on this story
Several ballot initiatives currently are circulating the state, trying to gain access to General Election ballots in November. Each would provide a blunt solution to what backers would say is a legislative failure. But lawmakers still have opportunities to craft collaborative solutions to some of these problems.
The governor was right. Lawmakers already know what the priorities ought to be. Growth brings challenges to public education, transportation, infrastructure, air quality and caring for the poor and needy.
Those are the problems. Utah’s leaders could do much to ensure good times continue in the state by making the “spirit of collaboration” a template for finding solutions.