WASHINGTON, D.C. – Gov. Gary Herbert, along with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, delivered the National Governors Association annual State of the States address Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Herbert is vice chair of the Governors Association, and Hickenlooper serves as chair. Later, Herbert met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, and then spoke with the press via teleconference afterwards.
Both governors highlighted innovations happening in the states while acknowledging the new Congress offers an opportunity for the federal government to partner with states to solve some of the nation’s most pressing issues.
In his remarks, Herbert drew on the many state accomplishments to call on the new Congress for a state-federal agenda focused on joint solutions and partnership. Specifically, he called for renewed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as a long-term, multi-year reauthorization of federal surface transportation laws.
Speaking to reporters, Herbert discussed several issues, and responded to questions about public lands in Utah and the governor’s Healthy Utah proposal.
Healthy Utah proposal
During Herbert’s meeting with Obama, he discussed his Healthy Utah plan – a proposed three-year pilot program which would address the estimated 57,850 Utahns currently caught in the coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act and the state’s Medicaid limitations.
According to Herbert’s proposal, approximately 95,000 Utahns would be eligible for coverage under the Healthy Utah Plan. It would also enroll individuals who are unemployed or underemployed in training programs to better build their resumé in the job market.
The president was amenable to the idea, Herbert said, and wanted to hear new ways to solve problems proposed by state governments. Herbert said:
I mentioned to him, the concern I have is we haven’t been able to quite get to where I thought would be appropriate, with a work requirement as part of our Healthy Utah (plan). We had a discussion on what I consider a win-win where people get health care as well as get assistance to find better work. If they are able-bodied, they get a job, if they are able-bodied and underemployed they get a better job.
“We recognize that there are people that are medically frail, and others who will never be able to find work,” Herbert said. “But for those who are able to work, we want to help them in addition to health care, give them an opportunity to get a better job and get off government assistance.”
Federal land transfer
When asked where he stands on the federal ownership of lands in Utah, Herbert said that the question is not about ownership, it’s about the management of public lands.
A number of people in Utah feel the federal government should have disposed of federal lands in Utah, as it did in other states. While “that kind of ship has sailed” due to the 1976 Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, Herbert said, many Utahns feel that public lands are not being managed to their optimal level.
While Utah benefits from tourism on public lands, when it comes to accessing natural resources such as water rights, agricultural interests, mineral rights, the process is cumbersome and lengthy.
“What normally takes three months, to get permits on private land, might take a year and a half on public lands,” Herbert said.
“The whole issue we have in Utah is who’s going to manage the public lands,” Herbert said.
Utah would be better off economically managing public lands, he said, as shown in a study by three Utah universities.
The economic impact study regarding the transfer of Utah’s public lands from federal to state control showed that while the costs of taking over management of Utah’s public lands reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the revenue generated from those lands would cover the expense and then some, the report said.
“I’ve always said that Utah is a public lands state – it will always be a public lands state – the only question is who should be managing them,” Herbert said.
Herbert supports Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, which is an effort to build consensus among stakeholders in eastern Utah to designate lands for conservation and development.
“Let’s work together with all the stakeholders, industry, civic leaders, local business community, environmentalists, and say ‘what should be protected, and what should be developed,’ and see if we can’t agree on that, and set that aside by statute,” Herbert said. “I think it shows a lot of promise, a lot of potential.”
If that type of agreement could be made, a potential lawsuit against the federal government over management of Utah public lands would become moot, Herbert said.
Other items in State of the States
Herbert noted governors’ disappointment in Congress’ failure to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act late last year, which would have allowed states to collect taxes already owed to them from online purchases.
“It is time for Congress to act and resolve this issue,” he said. “Already, more than 20 states have taken matters into their own hands and passed laws to collect a portion of the tax on their own.”
Regarding the National Guard, Herbert voiced governors’ strong support to maintain its strength and capability, commending Congress for acting to avoid cuts to the Air National Guard last year. With proposed cuts potentially on the table again this year, he promised equally strong support.
“Governors understand the need to make adjustments to meet financial realities, but this is the time to invest in value, and the National Guard is the best bang for the buck,” he said.
Herbert concluded with two natural resources of importance to governors across the country: the EPA’s rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. He called for flexibility as states work to develop plans and implement the rule. He also congratulated Congress for passing WRRDA and for including so many of the guiding principles governors developed related to the bill.
To see Herbert’s speech or view a video, go here.
- Deadline for public lands transfer passes, state considers litigation
- Economic study: Utah could benefit from managing public lands
- Who should manage public lands? Lockhart, Ivory face off with McCool, Keiter at SUU debate
- Health Reform Task Force votes against governor’s Healthy Utah Plan
- Herbert: Turning a blind eye, doing nothing is not the Utah way; details Healthy Utah pilot program
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