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Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox: The Self-Reliant Utah Plan will help us recover — and grow — from the COVID-19 pandemic

Our long-term objective is to be prepared as individuals, families and communities and to make Utah the most self-sufficient state in the nation.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a virtual forum featuring the Republican primary gubernatorial candidates at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

No one has been spared the destructive impact of COVID-19. Not only has this virus robbed many of us of friends or family members, it has also robbed countless Americans of their businesses, jobs and financial security.

While Utah’s response to this crisis has resulted in one of the highest rates of testing and lowest death rates in the nation, we have not escaped the coronavirus’ destructive path. Utah hospitals have faced shortages of critical supplies. Schools are canceled. Hundreds of small businesses have furloughed or laid off employees. Farmers are disposing of thousands of gallons of excess milk each day while our ranchers struggle to sell their products. Operators in the Uintah Basin have shut in wells. Across the board, Utah families are facing difficulties, disruption and uncertainty.

Recovery must be our first and foremost objective. We have to get that right before we can do anything else. The good news is there is a recovery plan. It was prepared by the governor, the legislature and dozens of community leaders. The recovery plan identifies the steps Utah needs to take to return to economic strength. The state’s economic recovery is already underway. We will restore Utah’s economic powerhouse.

Undoubtedly, we still have challenges ahead. The next several months will not be easy. There will be tough choices with difficult tradeoffs. There will be the occasional setback. We need to be vigilant and smart. But I have zero doubt we will get through this.

Utah will recover. The question is, recover to what?

It would be a mistake to think our goal should be to return to the status quo before the pandemic. There are important lessons we’ve learned the past few months. I believe we should set the goal to return to a better place than we were before. Let’s recover stronger, smarter and more resilient.

It is with that in mind that I recently released the Self-Reliant Utah Plan. The plan recommits the state to self-reliance as a governing principle, and outlines specific steps to strengthen critical supply chains and help insulate the state from future crises.

Self-Reliant Utah starts by proposing the immediate creation of state stockpiles for medical supplies, minerals and energy. Never again should Utah be forced to rely on other nations or states for essential PPE for front-line health care workers. Utah should do everything it can to ensure we are even better prepared for the next pandemic, earthquake or major natural catastrophe.

Next, the plan recognizes Utah’s food and water infrastructure as critical to the state’s future stability. Our country has taken our farmers and ranchers for granted for far too long. We need to identify critical agriculture habitat and viable water projects throughout the state and design policies to preserve and enhance these areas. Further, explicit support for the development and expansion of local production facilities to process Utah’s agricultural raw goods into consumer products is needed.

Another component of the plan calls for building on the progress we’ve made in the areas of telehealth and online education. A Cox administration will aim to become the most technologically advanced and innovative education state in the nation. This educational excellence will fuel our economic engine for decades to come.

Self-Reliant Utah also embraces telework. Even before the crisis, Utah was experimenting with teleworking. Early results were positive with metrics showing increased productivity and happy employees. It calls on the state to incorporate telework as a core component of state employment. This will result in fewer commutes, less traffic and emissions reductions and the eventual divesting of state buildings.

COVID-19 is projected to significantly cut state revenues. As budgets shrink, state government programs must be right-sized, reformed or cut. Many state programs were designed years ago to address challenges of a previous era with different economic conditions, labor markets and technologies. State government needs an upgrade.

While state revenues will be limited, we will need to quickly replenish the state’s rainy day funds to pre-disaster levels. A rainy day today can become a monsoon tomorrow.

This plan is not one of disengagement. Utah will continue to actively participate in the global markets and aggressively participate in global commerce. Going forward, our state policy should explicitly and deliberately minimize our reliance on foreign medical supplies, medicines, equipment and other essentials.

The Self-Reliant Utah Plan will increase the likelihood that when the next crisis comes, Utah is ready. It will reestablish the principle of self-reliance as understood by our pioneer ancestors. Our long-term objective is to be prepared as individuals, families and communities and to make Utah the most self-sufficient state in the nation.