Gov. Cox addresses young people at 2023 State of the State Address

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox had a message for the next generation of Utahns in his 2023 State of the State Address yesterday at the Utah State Capitol.

Cox had invited legislators, cabinet, and senior staff members to bring a child or grandchild to the House Chamber and House Gallery, and dozens responded.

“To every young person today grappling with fear, I want to speak to you,” Cox said. “Whether it be fear of finding a good career or a home you can afford to buy. Or fear of a planet in peril, or attacks on democracy — at home or abroad, or the effects of inflation. Or fear of any of the other crazy things in our society today. If there is one message that I could give to you, it is this: The future of our state is not written in the stars. It is for us, the free men and women of Utah, to dictate our destiny … To anyone who believes that the next generation in Utah will be worse off than their parents, my message is simple: not now, not on our watch.”

During his 22-minute speech, Cox outlined some of his policy priorities and goals for Utah’s future, including teacher pay, Great Salt Lake conservation, affordable housing, tax cuts, and social media.

Teacher pay:

According to Data from the National Education Association, Utah teachers made an average of $44,349 in starting salary during the 2020-2021 school year, and educators had a top salary of $81-594, including those with master’s degrees.

In December, Cox recommended a $6,000 compensation increase for every teacher in the state.

“The data is clear. The largest variable in student outcomes is the quality of the teacher,” Cox said. “I have said this many times, and I will say it again: If we ran an experiment with two identical students, and you let me pick the teacher, and I let you pick everything else: the school, the curriculum, the books, the software and electronics, the administration, I will win every time. And if we want to guarantee that we have the best teachers, we must invest in our teachers.”

The Great Salt Lake and water conservation:

According to a recent report from Brigham Young University, the Great Salt Lake as we know it is on track to disappear in five years due to excessive water use. University researchers have called on the governor’s office to implement a watershed-wide emergency rescue to restore the vital water body.

“Earlier this month, a report predicted that in just five short years, the Great Salt Lake will completely disappear. Let me be absolutely clear. We are not going to let that happen,” Cox said. “Miraculously, the Great Salt Lake has already risen more than it did all last year. A few months ago, before the first big storm, I asked my team to include $5 million in my budget proposal for flood mitigation. I didn’t want to be the person to show up for a prayer meeting without my umbrella. It’s too soon to know, but I sincerely hope we need that money.”

Affordable housing:

Amid Utah’s housing shortage, median home sales and monthly mortgage prices have also skyrocketed.

Photo: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

Cox’s proposed solution to this issue is to build more housing throughout the state.

“If we want less expensive housing, we simply need more of it,” Cox said. “And not just deeply affordable or low-income housing — although we certainly need that, too — but more of everything. We can build more and do it in a way that does not diminish the quality of life. Smart density, in the right places, paired with improved infrastructure from wise investments and a renewed emphasis on single-family starter homes — remember those? — will make certain that Utah does not become like California and that future generations will be able to call this state home.”

Tax cuts:

Cox also touched on the $1 billion tax cuts in his Fiscal Year 2024 budget recommendations. Last month he proposed an income tax rate reduction, expansion of the dependent exemption to include a $250 refundability provision, dependent exemption for pregnant women, an expansion to Social Security tax phase-out, a one-time income tax rebate, a property tax reduction, an expansion of the circuit breaker credit, and returning service fees through the Universal Service Fund.

These ongoing and one-time income tax and property tax recommendations, combined with cuts made over the past two years, amount to the most significant tax cuts by a single administration in Utah state history.

“My philosophy is simple. I believe that Utah families can spend this surplus better than we can,” Cox said.”And so I am proposing an historic $1 billion in tax relief for Utah families. While almost all of the levers of inflation are outside our state’s control, we can and must enable Utahns to keep more of their hard-earned dollars to combat the rising cost of living.”

Social media:

Cox has spoken repeatedly this winter on the negative effects of social media on young people, even hosting a symposium on social media and youth mental health earlier this month. During his address, Cox stated he is working with legislators on legislation preventing social media from gathering data from kids, limiting the use of cell phones in the classroom, and empowering parents to reduce in-home technology use.

“This is unacceptable,” Cox said. “In Utah, we’re done waiting for someone else to solve the problem. To the social media companies who have been reckless in protecting our youth, Utah parents are putting you on notice. If you insist on fighting us, be assured that we are more than ready for a fight and we will win. Or you can join us and be part of the solution.”

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