November 18, 2018

"I think we have a responsibility, in fact, to appreciate different points of view, respect different points of view, engage with civility and respect..." Governor Herbert

ANNOUNCER: KUED presents The Governor's Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and Governor Gary Herbert.


REPORTERS: Good morning, governor. 

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Honored to be with you, as always. Thank you for your attendance. On my way up here, I've been doing a little bit of reflection on this past couple of weeks, and the loss that we've had here, as a state, of some iconic figures in our political scene and our communities. I'll just mention three, if I can quickly.

As we learned yesterday, former Congressman Jim Hansen passed away, at age 86. Jim was one of the first people I talked to when I decided to get into politics. And he told me, just go in with your eyes open, know what the reality is out there, and not have this romanticized view of politics. He started out at the local government area in Farmington, concerned about water issues. That led him to be involved in local politics and eventually became the longest-serving congressman in Utah's history, at 22 years, came back, and I really got to know him again, very well, in 2004, when he was one of eight or nine of us that were running for governor. Again, a good man who served his community extremely well and helped in many ways, particularly to keep Hill Air Force Base viable in the state of Utah. So a great public servant that we're going to miss.

Also this past week, we've had the funeral of Dan Jones, an icon in polling and politics. I don't know if he's replaceable. He was a man who was almost paranoid about his professionalism and integrity when it came to the numbers, doing the research. That was his pet phrase, is I've done the research, Gary, I know what the public thinks out there and what they're wanting to have happen and in a republic, you know, that's what elected officials ought to do to represent the people. A good man. Again, I think anybody who has ever been involved in politics and major political office has spent time with Dan Jones and kind of picking his brain and getting counsel from him, and certainly, I'm no exception. He was a friend and a mentor and as I've said, I am a better governor because I knew Dan Jones.

Last but not least, we had the very solemn occasion yesterday of welcoming home Major Brett Taylor, killed in action in Afghanistan. Not only was he Major Brett Taylor, but he was Mayor Brent Taylor. He was the personification of the citizen soldier that we see in our army, Air National Guard. Somebody who actually wears two hats, finds ways to serve not only his local communities and the private sector or the public sector but also serve as a defender of our constitution and serving in the military.

What's, I think, really significant about Major Taylor is that he volunteered four times to go to the Middle East, a very dangerous spot in our world, not only to protect what we stand for here as an America, but also to help give freedom and liberty to those who have not had that in Afghanistan.

His fourth tour there, he went back because he loved the people and he thought he could do some good. And that's impressive to me, again, somebody who's said, I'm called to serve, I'm going to find a way to serve and he found many capacities to do that. I was really taken back by his last Facebook post, which I think we all ought to ponder, as we're coming out of elections here, don't even have the results of some of them yet, it's very tempting to point fingers and to consider the other side the enemy.

But remembering Major Taylor's words of encouragement, he said this. “I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote and that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unite us than divide us. United we stand, divided we fall. God bless America.” Well, I hope that that message echoes with all of us. I think we have a responsibility, in fact, to appreciate different points of view, respect different points of view, engage with civility and respect, and if we'll do that and engage together and come together, we can have good policy for our communities, for our state, for our country. 

So again, as we have this Thanksgiving time of year, let's thank those who've served and thank those that are good examples to the rest of us. With that, I'm happy to take any questions.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Governor, thank you for that opening statement. Democrats have taken over control of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the results of that is that representative Rob Bishop will no longer be in charge of the Natural Resources Committee and I'm wondering, does that affect how you are going to approach any public lands issues policies in our state?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I don't know that this makes a major change in how we approach it. We ought to stand on good principles and good values and common sense and that should resonate with both sides of the aisle, particularly common sense part and how we manage our public lands is really a common-sense thing. Everybody wants to have the optimal benefit of public lands but under the BLM's charter, for example, it's a multiple use. It's not one at the exclusion of everything else. And so finding the proper balance is something I think that common sense and practicality will bring us to. And I'm looking forward to working, continuing with Rob Bishop who will have a major role to play, even though he'll be in the minority and working with Democrats and across the aisle for common-sense solutions of whatever the issues are of the day 

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor, this morning, you were served, and if you haven't gotten it, you will when you get back to your office, by TRUCE, with a preservation letter. They're gearing up for apparently a lawsuit over the LDS Church's influence in the Prop 2 compromise bill, as well as in politics in Utah overall. You're on the hook, potentially, for this lawsuit. Any thoughts about it?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, thanks for the heads-up, Ben. Actually, I was told on my way up here that we'd been served with a notice that we may have a lawsuit. So I don't think we've seen the litigation.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: It's a preservation letter.


BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: It's personal documents.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yeah, just so we don't discard something they may want to look at. Let me just talk about the Proposition 2. One, I'm the one that calls people into special session, so it's me doing it, nobody else. Two, I made mention last April, I think I was the first one really to come out and say I think Proposition 2, as an initiative, has flaws in it. Not that the desire to have access to a medicine to help alleviate pain and suffering is not a good cause, but this initiative has flaws in it and that's proven to be true. S

Such things that we have actually, an initiative that was based on outdated statutes on our books. We've got to correct those for sure. As we've had opportunities, there was a coalition formed. I declined to participate, by the way, in that coalition. But we had people kind of choosing up sides and those for it and those against it. In that process, I came to this, in fact, media event here a few months ago and said, if this initiative passes, we will come back in a special session and correct the flaws in the initiative.

So we get this to the place that the people of Utah can feel good about it and really find mutually beneficial success. If it doesn't pass, we'll come back in a special session and we'll create new legislation that does not have the flaws that the initiative has in it and we'll create an opportunity for the public to weigh in through the process. So this is kind of a baseline and opportunity, but it's certainly not the end result. We'll have opportunities for people to come pro and con on whatever those issues are. 

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: But to TRUCE's point, does the LDS Church exercise over undue influence on Utah politics? 

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think, certainly, the LDS Church has influence because most of the people of Utah, the majority, happen to be members of that church and so just by extension, there's probably some influence but you could say the same thing, if you're in Massachusetts, about the Catholic Church.

Again, we have a lot of faith-based organizations that have influence on what we say when it comes to in fact, significant issues of policy, particularly those that have a moral bend to them. I had just this past week, my annual lunch with what we call the non-Mormon clergy. We had about 25 different denominations, Christian and non-Christian, talking about issues that we can come together on, that are important, as we develop policy for this state. I want to have an uplifting effect on our community. So certainly, churches have a right to have a voice and we'd expect them to have a voice and then all voices are welcome.

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, when you talk about something the people of Utah can feel good about, didn't the people of Utah just say we feel good about Prop 2 and passing it?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  hey did, and again, we've set the table on saying that you can feel comfortable in voting for this because the flaws that are in it, the people acknowledge, we're going to fix. So it probably gave people even an incentive to say, oh, you know what? There are some problems but let's vote for it anyway. We know that they'll fix those problems. And by the way, we have the proponents for Prop 2 and the opponents coming together in a compromise which in fact will be mutually beneficial, certainly making sure that those who have a need to have access to medical cannabis will have access to it with the recommendation of a trained doctor, that we're going to be able to control access and make sure that we don't have it going into the black market any more than it already does and make sure that we control the quantity and the quality through pharmacy distribution.

I don't know why anybody who would be opposed to this, but certainly those who have been the most actively engaged opponents and proponents have come together and compromise. Is it perfect Probably not. That's why we have a public process, to allow us to modify and improve, amend as we go forward but we're in a good place here and I'm looking forward to the special session which we will hold probably December the 3rd.

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Are you willing to give on the distribution model? That seems to be the sticking point here. You're right, supporters of this proposition do come out and say there are things that need to be modified. However, they seem, those especially behind this possible lawsuit seem to be very stuck on the distribution of the state central model. They want what Prop 2 offers in the dispensaries. Are you willing to negotiate that?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I'm willing to listen to any point of view. If we can make it better, we ought to make it better. So I don't think anybody's voice is not wanted or warranted. Let's hear what your recommendations are and see if we can build some consensus. That's how you do legislation.

I do note that Connor Boyack, again, a proponent of this, has been in the lead of this in the beginning with DJ Schanz, has said this makes, this compromise makes it, in fact, some ways better for those patients that want to have access. So this is a movement in the right direction. This is taking some corrective action over some of the flaws. I'm sure we'll land in a good place that will be, in fact, something that the consensus, the vast majority of the people talk to are going to say, thank you very much, that's good policy.

MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: There's one thing that, a little bit left out and you have long and often talked about the federal solution that's required here. Is there any discussion in this compromise about enlisting the Utah delegation in that effort 

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Absolutely. Again, for those who are very passionate about this, for sure. Look, let's go to where we have the real problem, where the real bottleneck is, that's stymying our ability to do this 100% correctly, and that's the federal government.

MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: So you would call upon the Utah delegation to draft a bill to solve the problem?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Absolutely. In fact, I think they're already talking about doing that very thing. At least take it off the schedule one list, so we can have robust research and do clinical trials and studies and decide what, in fact, the science and the research tells us, how we can use, most effectively, cannabis as a medicine.

Again, I don't know why we've delayed that for the last number of years. Again, I look to the past administration who all they said was, well, we're just going to ignore the existing laws and move ahead anyway. That's not the way you solve problems. Let's address the issue. Let's do this research and let's correct the laws so that we have proper policies in place.

BENJAMIN WOOD, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Governor, on the topic of lawsuits, what do you make of Representative Love's desire to challenge vote-counting in Salt Lake County?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well, you'd need to call her and her campaign people to find out what their motivation behind that is to know exactly. I would just say this. One, the elections in Utah have been very good. I think the counts, when they're all said and done, will be accurate. There is no indication, no evidence of any voter fraud that takes place in our elections here in the state of Utah

So I'm pleased with our elections office, the lieutenant governor his people but I'm pleased with the clerks around the state. They're the ones that have to implement the program and count the votes. So again, I expect that the all the votes will be counted in the fourth district. Every voice should be heard and every voice, and legally cast, should be counted. And we'll see what the results are. We know it's too close to call right now but I expect we'll have an accurate tally here's some time next week, when we do the canvass.

BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: You didn't say that you were pleased with how the Utah County clerk has gone about his business.

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well that's because I'm not. Again, I--

BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: Does the state have a role here in training county clerks or overseeing them or somehow? It just seems to be like a reoccurring problem down there.

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  That's really a local issue and the people down in Utah County have spoken. They've replaced the existing clerk with a new clerk and we've had the issue, actually, down in Utah County, unfortunately since 2006 when we first implemented the Help America Vote Act. And it's becoming almost a running joke around the state that if we're going to have a problem in the state on this election cycle, we know it'll be a Utah County.

It's a combination of the county commissioners, you know, given the resources necessary, having better communication with the clerk, making sure that they have enough polling locations and enough machines out there, anticipating the participation rates, knowing the ballot and what's on it, a little longer ballot. I mean, everybody else seems to be able to figure it out. Doesn't mean we don't have mistakes made in other counties but Utah County can do better and the people of Utah County deserve better.

MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: You were a commissioner down there at the beginning of your political career. Governor, do you have recollections of the problem existing then? 

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  No. No, we did a pretty good job. The Help America Vote Act actually made things a little bit more difficult with these electronic machines and how they worked and then making sure that the electronics were functioning correctly, that people were able to go in there and know how to use this new machine that's a little different.

Utah County's a little slow on the uptake there, a little slow on getting into vote-by-mail, which is proven to be a very much, I think, a benefit to the people of Utah. You get the mail, you get your ballot, you know what the issues are, you know what the candidates are, you can start studying them. You see things on TV, it registers in your mind, you weigh the pros and the cons, and then you find a point where you say, you know what? I'm ready to vote. You fill it in and mail it. No lines, it's no fuss, no muss. But you end up having a more informed voter.

Too often in the past, people show up to the elections on Tuesday and actually go into the booth and kind of figuratively or metaphorically flip a coin and decide who they're going to vote for. So I think it's not only easier to vote by mail but it gives a chance for the electorate to be more informed on the issues, as they are consciously having to think about it, you know, three weeks in advance. So again, this is the first time that Utah County really used, it last year with the special election. And they're just learning about it now. So their learning curve is there and I just hope that in the next cycle, in two years from now, that they'll get it figured out and I expect that they will.

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, back to the propositions and the modification of those. Proposition 3, Medicaid expansion. Senator Jake Anderegg has a bill that would completely repeal that. Do you have an appetite for going down that road after again, the people of Utah spoke out saying we support this.

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  I think it would be difficult to completely repeal it but I think it probably is going to be of necessity that we have to modify some of it. For example, Medicaid expansion, Medicaid itself is expensive. And even though we have a match that comes from the federal government, the amount of money we spend as a state is about 19% of our budget for Medicaid. That's a large thing and again, Democrats and Republicans alike have called Medicaid the budget buster of all time. It just grows and it becomes more expensive, as healthcare costs rise. So it's not just a matter of participation rates, it's a matter of the rising cost of health care. Unfortunately, under the Affordable Care Act, all that's being talked about is who's going to pay for the rising cost of health care, rather than addressing the root problem of the rising cost of health care. More affordability in health care means more accessibility.

So the concern I've got, and I think the legislature shares that concern, is if we don't do something, if we're like other states that have had this expansion take place, rather than be a 19% of your budget, and by the way, it started out at eight or nine percent of our budget, it's now up to 30% of your budget. And so the question is affordability and fiscal responsibility going forward.

We're not like the federal government that just keeps printing it out there and increases their deficit. We have no deficit. We have no structural imbalance in the state of Utah, which is one of the reasons why were one of only nine states that have a AAA bond rating from all rating agencies. So we need to get the fiscal aspects of this under control. There's a lot of things that are relevant to that, but if we don't, then we have to start taking money from some other source in the budget. Education, transportation, other health and human services, public safety, or raise taxes. And the proposition had a tax increase in it, embedded there, that I don't know that many people are paying attention to, but that's not enough. That's not enough to sustain it over one or two years. So we're going to have to address it. I think modification rather than repeal is a better answer.

BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: Talking about the budget for a moment, yesterday at the House Republican Caucus, they were woefully talking about how your new budget may be spending all these new revenue sources that are coming and said, well, it's just a recommendation and that's our starting point. Are there going to be big revenue, new revenue sources coming and are you're going to spend a lot of it?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well, I know this, that we have a healthy economy. We've been focused on that dramatically over the last few eight or nine years and by golly, our work's paid off. We have the healthiest, most diverse economy in America, so I'd expect to have a steady revenue stream and an expansion of our economy, which is exactly what you want to have happen. Rather than I have to raise taxes, it's better to have a growing, expanding economy to help us pay for the bills on the services that we, the people, think are important.

That being said, clearly what's, I think, evident out there is this may be time to look at some tax reform seriously. I've introduced the subject three years ago and say, we need to take a look at our tax policy and see if we're at the optimal place where we, in fact, extract the revenues in a fair and equitable fashion from the population to provide for these services and not have any dampening effect on the best economy in America.

So I think that will be more of our discussion, is tax reform and how to, in fact, adjust tax policy. I, again, the fact we have additional revenues or some areas that we want to put money into, education is one of them. And I think the legislature will agree with that. In fact, last year, 75% of all the new money went into education. That's our number one budget priority. That's our seed corn. That's making sure that our economy continues to be strong and healthy for the next generation. But there's other areas that we need to have in public safety areas, mental health counseling, a lot of different areas that have needs. But, who knows? Maybe we can even have a tax cut.

REPORTER: Governor, what are your thoughts on Amendment C passing?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Amendment C is the legislature calling themselves into session. I don't have a big, burning problem with that. I believe the legislature will show proper constraint, proper restraint. There's going to be the temptation to call yourselves into session. It eliminates the check and balance that our founding fathers of Utah, at least, put in the in the constitution and that causes me a little bit of concern but if you read the initiative, it says, if we have times of war, fiscal strife, if we have natural disaster, then we can call ourselves into special session. Well, we've never had a time when the governor, working with the legislature, has not called themselves into special session for those purposes.

The problem with it is that we have the word emergency that's been added to there. So they you can define the emergency themselves, which means, well, we didn't get this bill passed, we got this crunch time coming up, we've got this issue. The latitude to determine what an emergency is, is the one that should cause us all concern. Again, I think that the temptation to use and say, well, we'll meet in 30 more days, is something that I'm concerned about. But the new leadership that we've got here, as we've had discussions about this, I'm hopeful and confident that they will use restraint and not use this temptation to call themselves in the special session inappropriately.

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: So for example, if this were in place back during the special session to replace Representative Chaffetz, you're confident they wouldn't have used that as an emergency--


GLEN MILLS, ABC4: to call themselves into special session?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  I'm confident they would have used it as an emergency. It was not an emergency but we didn't have consensus on that. Usually when we have special sessions, we have the senate and the house and the executive branch kind of on the same page. That's why we have them.

Special sessions are not designed to do legislation, they're to correct some problems, some things that maybe came up a little short or some issue that's kind of simple to understand and fix.

The regular sessions are where you have the healthy debate, the discussion, and public input and comment. And so those are generally where we would do those kinds of things. So again, that's the only time that we've really had a problem and that's the first time in our country, in our state's history of 120 plus years and so, I don't think that was a necessary change but the legislature obviously saw differently.

REPORTER: So are you saying we might get a tax cut recommended in your new budget?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  I'm saying it's a possibility. As we go through tax reform, again, what we want to find is equity, fairness, people paying their fair share, as we hear all the time. That sometimes is hard to define. Fairness is like beauty, it's in kind of, in the eyes of the beholder or the payer. And so, we ought to make sure that we understand the dynamics that change the marketplace, more service-orientation now than we've ever had before, our sales tax is not commensurate with what our economy. Economy is growing at about 5%. Our sales tax revenues are growing at 3%.

There's a disconnect there. We've talked about the gasoline tax. The users aren't paying for the use of the roads like they were in the past. It used to be 60% of the maintenance and construction and capacity of our roads came from a gasoline tax. Now it's only 40% and 60% now is being taken from the general fund. By the way, the gasoline tax, right now today, is the lowest percentage of your income it's ever been in the history of our state since the inception of the gasoline tax in 1929.

So incomes have grown dramatically, some of our other things like gasoline tax has not. We haven't really adjusted for inflation for the past 20 years and so we're a little bit behind the curve there. So that's part of maybe tax reform we got to take a look at. And I guess the phrase that will guide us, is we ought to be broadening the base, in a fair way, there's going to be some that aren't going to be part of the base, those that are impoverished. Those that are below some level of income shouldn't have to pay anything. But for those of us who have incomes that we warrant some need to pay taxes, particularly income tax, we all probably pay some sales tax. We just need to make sure we broaden the base and lower the rate, that would be a good policy. Broaden the base and lower the rate.

REPORTER: Does the state need a law that would be mandating the tax at the pump for road construction and use on the roads, like similar to what California has enacted?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  You know what? The change of transportation and unmanned vehicles may be in our future. Who knows how soon, 10 years, 20 years. There probably is going to be some need to modify how we, in fact, maintain roads. Electrical cars are in our future. How do we charge for the use of the roads with them? So again, tax reform is a complicated issue but it's something we need to start and I expect to start at this upcoming legislative session.

ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor, we're out of time. Thank you very much for joining us today.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Great to be with you all. 

ANNOUNCER: This has been The Governor's Monthly News Conference. An archive of transcripts, video, and audio is available online. Please visit Thanks for joining us.

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