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Opinion: Housing, teacher shortage, drought, renewable energy. Utah’s leaders plan to solve the big problems

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson discusses the main issues the Utah Legislature will focus on this session

SHARE Opinion: Housing, teacher shortage, drought, renewable energy. Utah’s leaders plan to solve the big problems
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, speaks during the opening day of the Utah Legislature’s 2023 session on Jan. 17, 2023.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, speaks during the opening day of the Utah Legislature’s 2023 session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The once-in-a-century confluence of being the fastest-growing state in America, a worldwide pandemic, historic drought and an unprecedented budget surplus now presents Utah with a rare opportunity. The decisions we will make this legislative session will define Utah’s next decade and beyond.

While we expect more than 1,000 bills to be filed and about half that number passed into law, there are three policy areas that will require our best thinking, honest debate, and determination to seize the opportunity and meet the challenge before us: stewardship, affordability and investment. 

Stewardship

Being good stewards means taking care of something throughout the time it is entrusted to us, and leaving it better for those who come after us.  

We need to be better stewards of our water. Utah has the distinction of being both one of the fastest-growing and driest states in the country. That leaves little room for error in how we manage our growth and our water. This has been a wet winter so far, but one winter alone won’t wipe out two dry decades. 

The ongoing drought, our management of state water, increased resources for southern Utah and preservation of the Great Salt Lake are top priorities for the House. This session we will continue to hone policies to encourage conservation and provide resources to help all Utahns do their part to safeguard our water.

Our stewardship efforts extend beyond water conservation and public lands to include energy policy. Utahns rightfully shake their heads, frustrated by the Biden administration’s energy policy that cuts production of proven energy sources while rushing to rely on renewable energy with complete disregard for reality. 

The fact is, while showing real promise, wind, solar and the collection of renewable options are simply unable to produce enough energy to power our homes and businesses.  

Utah’s measured, all-of-the-above energy policy has powered decades of prosperity by providing the most reliable energy at the most affordable prices in the country. 

Utah will fight for a responsible energy policy that embraces efficiency and is based in reality. We will make big investments in energy research and workforce development to prepare for Utah’s energy future. We don’t scoff at new energy technologies, but unlike other states, we know what it takes to keep the lights on today while we develop the new technologies and reliable energy for the future. 

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House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, is sworn in by former Speaker Nolan Karras during the first day of the Utah Legislature’s 2023 session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Affordability

Living in Utah is becoming too expensive for too many, thanks in large part to federal money-printing policies that are driving record inflation. 

It is impossible to ignore the sharp increase in Utah housing prices over the past several years. For many young adults and those starting families, the idea of a starter home has become something they’ve heard about but never really seen — like a fax machine or a landline phone. 

High interest rates, over-regulation and an overall housing shortage create nearly insurmountable hurdles for buyers, sellers and renters. It’s a problem along the Wasatch Front, in southern Utah and in rural Utah. 

Over the next 45 days, we are going to reduce regulatory barriers at the local level that limit housing supply, facilitate market-based solutions to our housing shortage and support options to increase housing in rural Utah. 

We also plan to help Utahns with their household budgets by cutting taxes, again. Over the past five years, we have cut taxes by $325 million and we’re just getting started. By the end of this session, the House will pass historic tax cuts to help all Utahns keep more of their hard-earned money where it matters most, in their pockets.

Investment

Utah’s economic strength and population growth come as no surprise. Our top-ranked economy, natural wonders and creative problem solving not only attract new people to our state, but make the people who live here never want to leave. That means our investment in the future is more important than ever before.

For example, the transition to electric vehicles demands adaptation in our infrastructure and transportation funding. And our growth means that we must invest in roads, transit and active transportation so we can all spend more time at our destination and less time getting there. 

The point of investing is to get a return, and there is no greater return on investment than educating our children. Education inspires upward mobility, fosters innovation and opens the door to prosperity. 

However, our schools are only as good as the teachers we entrust our children to each day. We have thousands of incredible educators in the state but we cannot ignore the fact that 42% of Utah teachers leave the profession within their first five years, and rural districts feel the impact of teacher shortages even more. 

It’s no surprise that compensation is a major reason so many teachers leave the profession. And we’re going to change that. This year, the House will give Utah teachers their largest pay increase in the history of our state — and we will make sure that increase goes directly to their paychecks.  

So, you can see we’ve got our work cut out for us. But great opportunity is notorious for disguising itself as hard work. 

This session will define our next decade and beyond. It will impact the lives of every Utahn. The House is ready to get to work. 

Brad Wilson is the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives