"We want you to go to school and do two things today, one is to learn something, and two, is to make new friends." Governor Herbert
NARRATOR: KUED presents The Governors Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and Governor Gary Herbert.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good morning
AUDIENCE: Good morning governor.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good to be with you and thank you for attending. I do note and watching my grandkids go out the door here this week, that school's begun, new school year starting and our young people, particularly we notice going out to our elementary schools and public education, and we trust our teachers to go a good job there, we appreciate the administration, the superintendents, the school board members, the parents, the students themselves, and we certainly wish them the very best.
We'd like to encourage them to be kind to their fellow students, avoid any kind of bullying as we say to our children when they go out, which is good counsel for everybody, "We want you to go to school and do two things today, one is to learn something, and two, is to make new friend."
We have opportunities, in fact, to enhance the educational experience and have done so with the help of the legislature, we've added two billion dollars in the decade that I have been the governor here of ongoing education funds in K through 12, two billion. If you add to that, the local monies and some federal monies that have come in, it's another billion. We've gone from 4.1 billion dollars for public education of ongoing money till today it's 7.1 billion dollars of ongoing money for K through 12.
As I've said it's not all about the money but it's some about the money, and I appreciate the fact that we have a good trend going. I would like to also mention too, the parents have the right to expect a safe environment when they send their kids off to school. And teachers have the right to expect a safe environment to teach in. And so things we are doing to make sure that that's a safe environment will continue with our efforts here.
I'd like to just make mention too of the safe UT app, the Safe Utah App, that you can get free of charge for all who have cellphones, they ought to have that downloaded so they can make contact as supported by our mental health people, our counselors, law enforcement, again, an opportunity for us in fact, to have better communication with those who may have some spy, or observe some trouble points and problems out there that they can report.
So again, I'm looking forward to the continued efforts we make with education, it's the key for success economically as we go forward. As I say to the young people that I get around the state, "If you want a good job, get a good education," and we're providing that here in the state of Utah. So with that, we will open it up for any questions you may have.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: So, governor, since the last news conference, there's actually been three mass shootings in this country, and you were talking safety for kids, I'm wondering what actions do you think we can do to reduce gun violence? Representative Handy has a red flags bill that he wants to run again. Representative King has one on background checks. Do you support either of those bills?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I certainly support having discussions on all of those issues that I think we need to take some action and do some things. We've been involved with this ever since the Parkland, Florida shooting. We've had all of our districts, 41 school districts report, on what they were doing to protect and make sure that schools are safe harbors for education and learning. Whether that be single entry points, more resource officers, law enforcement patrolling halls, closing off the campus so that there's only one way to get onto the campus grounds itself.
I appreciate, along with the funding that we've talked about here, additional three billion dollars, this past legislative session, in fact, we've added 26 million dollars for new counseling. To go over and above what we've done traditionally with counseling to help our young people be college and career prepared. This is designed to help with mental health issues. Early intervention of people that have problems at home life, some of the stressful points that can happen in the relationships with their fellow students at school. So that 26 million dollars will help us with early intervention issues.
But that being the case, all things ought to be on the table for discussion and I appreciate the fact that President Trump, via executive order, banned bump stock, and I think that's an important aspect of it, but what we do as far as background checks, what we are doing with maybe age limits on how old you have to be able to purchase outright a gun, the mental health aspects.
I know some think this is kind of silly, but Hollywood, what responsibility does Hollywood have? With some of the violence that they portray and glorify in the movies and our video games, which desensitize our young people as they play those games with the blood and gore that comes on the screen.
I remember when I was in the military I went through a desensitization, going to the range with my M16, and firing at silhouettes, they were trying to get me so I can pull the trigger and kill another human being, and that's part of war, preparation for war. So I think all those things ought to talked about and discussed, in an open and frank manner. And see if we can't change the culture which we seem to find ourselves in today, where violence is just an acceptable part of life.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Do you believe that this conversation has turned a corner in that law makers will be more willing to take action on things like you've just talked about, age limits, background checks, red flag laws.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think all those things are going to be at the heart of the discussion. And I think there is a sense of frustration about why is it happening, and what can we do to prevent it? I don’t know if there's any easy answer on this thing by the way, and what we do in America and how we've had the culture of America, we live in the kind of wild and wooly west, compared to some other parts of the world, it's not fair to compare, well they do it over here, and this is their result, as opposed to what we're doing here in America. We're a very free and open society.
MORGAN SMITH, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Governor, what do you think about the Planned Parenthood decision earlier this week, to pull out the Federal Family Funding Program, rather than abide by a new Trump administration rule, prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions? I mean in Utah this program covers 37 residents, sorry, 37 000 residents, how do you prepare those people, or propose those people still get the services.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well again, we've worked very closely with our local health departments, we have one in every one of our counties and then some. And so we've put additional monies in fact into women's health issues, so that people can go to our local health departments in our respective locations throughout the state, and get women's health needs and counseling and direction for whatever their situation may be. So I'm not going to speak for Planned Parenthood, if they feel like it's better for them to forgo the federal money, then so be it. Again, money is fungible, and I think Planned Parenthood takes money in one area and spends it somewhere else. But, I think that's a decision they've made, that being said, they said they're going to continue to provide the services, so they're going to absorb that some way, some way, with their revenues and their donations, and we'll continue to provide health through our local health departments, particularly with women's health, which we've actually increased the funding on.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor is there going to be a special session in dealing with taxes or other issues?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Could be, it's probably a little unclear right now whether that's going to happen. We have a couple of areas of concern with the medical cannabis law. We want to make sure that we have everything in place so we can meet the distribution deadline of the first part of March of 2020.
There's some issues that have come up as far as distribution and how we do that, and so I've met with legislative leadership and talked about that issue. We're working through that, it's premature to say we're going to have one, but if we do, I'll certainly make sure everybody knows so the public can weigh in, if any concerns they may have on any modifications or changes. But the intent is to make sure that we have the product out on the market, ready to go, the first part of March.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: So what was your conversation with legislative leadership in light of some counties saying that they're advising their health departments not to participate for fear of being prosecuted?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yeah, I think it's an unfounded fear, my personal opinion, nobody of the 30 some odd states that have already legalized medical cannabis, nobody has been prosecuted, it doesn't appear to be anybody being prosecuted, or desire to be prosecuted. As I've said before here at this forum, let's call upon congress to fix that problem. There ought to be in fact, ability, on the federal side to say, "We're not going to charge you, "it's a banking issue, it's how do you conduct business "with an illegal product?" And we end up having suit cases full of money to buy the product when we ought to be able to use the traditional banking system, that's a federal issue that ought to be addressed.
MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: Yes, but Governor, the main difference between commercial enterprise and the state of Utah, is that our state is planning to deal with control from seed to the final packaging and sale. What these prosecutors are saying is, to the local health departments, "You may been on some shaky ground here."
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I understand, it's hard for legal counsel to say, "Go ahead and break the law." But at the same time we have an initiative that's created new law, and so we've modified that to make it fiscally responsible, something we can actually do. Clearly we want to make sure we have the customer able to access the medicinal marijuana for medicinal purposes. We'd like to have doctors involved in the prescribing of that, and administered by a pharmacist.
The law gets in the way of this thing and again, we'll always have a bumpy get along if we don't have federal change in the law. In the meantime we're saying we're going to move ahead as directed by the public, provide them access to in fact, medical marijuana, and control it so it doesn't devolve into just recreational marijuana which is what some of the proponents really want to have happen. So I think we're on the right road, going the right direction, I'm not worried about it. I think we'll make sure that the product's available on March 1st of 2020, for those who need it.
MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: Apparently the growers that we're in touch with and the Department of Agriculture say things are definitely at speed and should have product somewhere in the pipeline by next year.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: And we plan on that. I mean that's the goal, that's the intent, there's nothing that I see that's going to inhibit that. We're just going to make sure it's done correctly and Utah will be again, I think an example of how it can be done, at least another option available to other states.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: On the issue of potentially removing the ear mark on the income tax for education, where do you stand on that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think everything's on the table for discussion, there should be nothing that should be say, well we don't want to talk about that, some kind of a sacred cow. I think ear marks in education, although I'm not a proponent of that, it certainly ought to be part of the discussion, just like putting the sales tax back on food ought to be part of the discussion. And then the question is, for the unintended consequences of that, the education or concern about will we lose money in that process to education? And that's really trusting that the legislature will in fact, come up with money from other sources, out of the general fund to augment whatever we'd lose on the income tax.
The same thing would be true of food, prepared food, unprepared food, the tax there. What if you're impoverished, and how do we help you? Well, there's methods, we can give tax credits, we can give food stamps, SNAP programs where people who really can't afford the tax, we're not going to say you don't have to pay the tax, we're going to say you don't have to pay for the food.
So there's ways to offset, that's going to part of the discussion, I don't know what the outcome's going to be, but I expect that there will be some attempt to make sure that our tax policy, as we go through this tax reform, what we have now, will be made better, so that for the next decade, the next generation, we can continue to not only survive, but thrive with the healthy growth of our economy.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: During the legislative session the focus was on services, you know that got a lot of backlash. Do you think the conversation has moved away from that and into these other areas that you talk about?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I don't think it's moved away from it, I think it's just been augmented by other options, other possibilities to bring in some fairness to the tax system. The question really is the general fund, which is mostly funded by sales tax, which is not growing at nearly the speed of income tax. We have a healthy economy, as we all know, it's growing very well. Our last numbers came in at 2.8% unemployment rate, with GDP growth of 3.6%, best in the nation.
So we diversified our economy, we're in a good place. But sales tax is not keeping up with income tax so there's an imbalance there, and the question is what's going to happen over the next four or five years, as we don't have that fund growing proportionately? So the intent is to have an overall tax cut and maybe an adjustment in the general fund monies which is mostly sales tax, hence the conversation.
So there's more than one way to skin the cat, as we say, I don't know what that's going to look like right now, I applaud the legislature for going out to meet with people. I think 12 different public hearings are ongoing. So that will help them determine what is in fact, politically palatable, and what is good policy going forward.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Is it possible we have nothing then? You keep posting revenues and showing a robust economy which seems to undercut the argument that we got to change everything on the tax policy.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yeah our economy is healthy, but again, the growth is like two to one in income tax over sales tax. I'm not saying that we're not growing economically, it's just an imbalance, and that will end up hurting us in the next couple of years. For example, we always have been subsidizing higher education out of the general fund. Well in about one or two years there will not be any money there to take out the general fund to help with higher education. So that's a concern for the higher education folks.
We probably should've raised the tax on gasoline for automobiles, the breakdown there is 40% of the user tax, gasoline tax, but 60% is coming out of the general fund. It probably should be just the reverse, 60% from those who use the roads and the gasoline tax, and 40% out of the general fund. So that might be something we'll want to take a look at and maybe make some adjustments to. So a lot of options on the table. I expect the legislature to do a very thorough job about this, this is not easy, we've always said it's a heavy lift, and some of it we've not been probably as good as we could've been on messaging, but we'll get to a better place, I'm sure that something will in fact, occur, when it comes to tax reform.
AMY JOI O’DONOGHUE, DESERET NEWS: Governor, Vice President Pence will be here Thursday touring Merit Medical, how significant is that for this state? Do you plan to meet up with him? What's the conversation going to be?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well we've had a number of discussions with him and his office and the administration in anticipation of this, they contacted us a couple of weeks ago, to let us know that they wanted to stop by. So we've been working with that to happen. Vice President Pence is a good friend of mine, I like the fact that he's a former governor. I wish we had more governors back in Washington, D.C, and understand the important role that states play under our concept of federalism as co-equal partners. The vice president understands that and gets it. I think he'll be here to highlight what's taking place, not only in Utah, but how we're doing internationally, with our trade.
Merit Medical's an ideal place to highlight the USMCA, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, that's replacing NAFTA as an update. Merit Medical has manufacturing plants in Mexico, they have distributors throughout the world, including Canada. Again, a good example, of how we've been able to in fact, take advantage of this trade agreement between the three countries. I've met the premiers of Canada, I've met with the then president, Peña Nieto, in Mexico. We've talked about modernization, they all agree, that needs to be done. And so I'm hopeful that this can happen, I don't know why congress is dragging their feet. I think everybody understands the need to update it and modernize it, and we ought to just get congress to pass the bill and be on with it.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Do you have concerns about tariffs right now and escalating trade wars with China?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: You know I think there's always a concern with tariffs. I'm not sure that tariffs are the best way to do things, but it is a tool in the tool box, and particularly with China, which is manipulating currency and doing some things that probably are not in America's best interests. But I'm not interested in getting into trade wars, but I am interested in having fair trade and free trade, and the president himself has said, "Hey, I'm prepared to reduce all of our tariffs to zero, zero, if the country's will reduce their tariffs "to zero on our products." That would be the most fair thing of all. But of course, they're not willing to do that, so hence we've got this back and forth going on and some of its posturing, but it does have an impact on businesses in Utah, our aluminum business, our steel business, our exercise equipment, ICON up in Logan, I've just talked with their CEO here just a couple of days ago. Agricultural products, I mean the tariff issue is a real issue and it does cause me some concern.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Polls continue to show that the president is not as popular here in the state of Utah as you would expect a republican president to be. Do you believe that Mike Pence coming to Utah kind of helps ease the heartburn of Utahans when it comes to the Trump administration?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think so, again, the vice president, really his background and history lines up with the culture of Utah very well. Very religious man, has conducted his life in such a way as to be considered a very honest, a lot of integrity, experience in congress for 12 years, serving as a governor. So I think he's well received here in the state of Utah. I think some people said they voted for Mike Pence for vice president, and Donald Trump came along as the president, so it was a team effort.
So I think he represents the administration well. But then I think sometimes the rhetoric, the messaging that gets in the way of good outcomes and I think what president Trump has done in many ways is really good, as far as what he's doing. We all have a little bit of a pause sometimes with what he says. So having Mike Pence here, the vice president, that's going to be I think helpful for the administration.
LEE DAVIDSON, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Governor, today the Trump administration announced a new rule where it may detain immigrants at the border indefinitely, and speaking of what Utahans think of Trump, you've been outspoken, calling for humane treatment of immigrants, what do you think of his latest move and his overall policy on immigrants?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well again it highlights the dysfunction of congress and it's just whether, it doesn't matter who's in the office of the president, we still have this dysfunction that's happened since Regan was president. And why we continue to kick this immigration issue down the road is puzzling to me. We certainly have the ability to resolve it, and it's a disappointment, blame probably goes on both sides of the aisle for not resolving the issue.
Everybody agrees we have secure borders and why don't we just do that? And there's probably multiple ways to do it. We also understand these are human beings, they ought to be treated humanely, whether they're here for a short time or a long time, we have the ability to do that.
Separation of families and sometimes the law gets in the way of humane treatment, under Obama as well as under Trump. But nevertheless we can in fact address that as a country. The amounts of money we would spend on that is probably pale in comparison on what we're spending on many other things in this country, so we ought to be able to treat these folks humanely and compassionately.
It goes to the fact that we all recognize that people want to come to America. I mean they want to come here. You don't see that in other countries, they're trying to get into America because of freedom and liberty and opportunity. We have a great system that too often we as Americans take for granted. And we see some on the left wanting to take away what's made America great and go into a more socialized approach. I think that would be a big mistake.
That being said, let's have congress fix the borders, treat people humanely for as long as we need to do that, and let's fix the gate, everybody talks about the wall and the fence, but nobody talks about the gate. How you come into this country, there's a right way and there's a wrong way. We ought to in fact, provide opportunities for people to come into this country, that will be a productive part of our society, and allow them to go back home, rather than get trapped here in America and feel like we've got to hide in the shadows because if we leave we may not be able to come back again.
So, there's a lot of work to be done, and most of it is just common sense. And a pox on both sides of the aisle because they use this for political purpose. Rather than solve the problem, it's all about politics, And the nation suffers, and the people that want to come to America, and you can see the attraction, are punished in the process too.
MICHAEL ORTON, CAPITAL PRESS CORPS: Governor, a bit of Utah has said recently, that you alone, and your office now, is responsible for Medicaid expansion in Utah, I know you've working about this topic for years, literally years, from Healthy Utah, all the way to forward. We know recently that waivers have been denied, where do we stand, and what are you going to do?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well you're right, we had a great proposal with Healthy Utah, it's too bad that wasn't adopted, we would not have all the drama that's going on now. But that being the case, we need to do something that's fiscally responsible, that's part of Utah's culture. We're one of only ten states in America to have a AAA bond rating, we don't spend more than we take in, and we save for rainy day. We make sure that we live within our means. Medicaid has gone from a 12% part of the budget to now 27% part of our budget and growing.
One of my good democrat friends, governor of another state said that, "Medicaid is the budget buster of all budget busters." So it's not just a republican thing there's a concern about the impact that it has on the budget as sincere as we are to help people with their healthcare.
That being said, what is lost in the discussion here, is that we have eight requests for waivers. The same leak that said we were going to have two of them denied, said that we're going to have six of them approved, so six of the eight are going to be approved. We're going to work with the administration. We have law, senate bill 96, that says we've got to submit this in writing, we're going to do that, and see what the response is going to be back from the administration, the Department of Health. They've encouraged us to do that, they've always said, "We think we can get these waivers approved," for whatever reason, we don't know for sure, why this has come out, that we're not going to approve it.
We need to go through the process as the law requires. For those who are on Medicaid, rest assured we've implemented the program, April 1st of this year, Medicaid is available, if you have any questions go to Medicaid.utah.gov, get information. Those, 100% of poverty, it's there free for everybody. For those above 100% of poverty, you have subsidized health insurance, under the Affordable Care Act, which allows people with family of four to have insurance for as low as 10, 15 ,20 dollars a month. And so it's affordable. And by the way the take up rate for insurance is about 80%, for Medicaid, it's only about 60%. Why the differential? In large part it's because you get better healthcare with insurance. You get the same kind of healthcare the rich people get. But your insurance is subsidized so people want to have better healthcare, more accessibility, more people, more providers.
So rest assured, those people, we're going to continue to have healthcare, we've budgeted for it. As we work through this waiver thing until we get that resolved, which we should have resolved, we would hope by the upcoming legislative session.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: But at the end of the day, do you think you're still going to have to implement Proposition 3 as the voters approved?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, my crystal ball is as foggy as yours, Ben, and so I don't know for sure what the answer to that is going to be. I know we're going to do what it we need to do to provide access to good quality healthcare for the people of Utah. And by the way, I hope everybody realizes that we have the lowest cost healthcare in America. 5th rated as best quality, our ratios are very good. So we're in a place that probably doesn't need this other government intervention into our lives. I'd much rather keep the money, the taxes that we're spending, 600 million additional money on taxes, I'd rather keep that home, and have us develop our own program. We can do it better and more efficiently, more effectively, and be less costly.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor thank you very much for your time with us today.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Thank you.
NARRATOR: This has been The Governor's Monthly News Conference, an archive of transcripts, video, and audio, is available online. Please visit KUED.org. Thanks for joining us