At the outset of the legislative session, I told my colleagues in the House of Representatives that the decisions we would make over the 45-day session would define Utah’s next decade and beyond. Looking back, I may have understated things. I believe that the 2023 legislative session was one of the most consequential in memory. The unprecedented investment in Utah’s future, expansive effort to make life more affordable in our state and demonstrated dedication to being good stewards of Utah’s resources, are all evidence that the people’s elected representatives rose to meet the moment. 

Keeping money where it belongs

This year, the legislature cut taxes by $850 million. By passing HB54, Tax Revisions, we cut the income tax rate from 4.85% to 4.65%. If you dig in a bit deeper, that means low-income households will see about a 22% tax cut, middle-income households will see about a 6% tax cut, and high-income households will see about a 4% tax cut.

The bill also expands the social security tax credit eligibility to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and increases the earned income tax credit from 15% to 20% of the federal credit. HB54 combined with HB170 also provide a tax benefit for families by providing a double dependent exemption for children in the year of their birth, and a $1,000 child tax credit for years 1-3.

This bill will also remove the state sales tax on food if the voters decide to amend the constitution in 2024 to provide the Legislature the budget flexibility to do so.

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In the five years prior to this session, we cut taxes by $325 million. Adding this year’s tax cut to that number totals well over $1 billion. The Legislature firmly believes the best way to help Utahns is to ensure they keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets and we delivered on our promise.

Investing in Utah students

One of the first policies we tackled this session was education. We have thousands of incredible educators, 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. To change that trend, this session we sought to  make a teaching career more desirable and allow good teachers to do what they do best — teach.

We opened the session by giving Utah teacher’s their largest pay raise in the history of our state, adding $6,000 in compensation that bypasses administrative costs and goes directly to their paychecks. Student success depends largely on the quality of Utah’s teachers and this move was a top priority for the Legislature.

In addition, the education budget was increased significantly including a 6% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, which is on the heels of another 6% increase last year and 5.9% the year before.

The Legislature also appropriated funding to expand optional full-day kindergarten, provide funding to expand teen centers and services in Utah schools for vulnerable and at-risk students, and removed school grading requirements. All told, the Legislature increased state funding for education by $915 million this year.

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

Learning requires a safe environment, and we adopted several policies to protect students and educators.

We passed bills to ensure we have better data about potential threats by requiring schools to report incidents of students bringing weapons to school and to establish a school security task force that will set safety standards for new school buildings, providing $25 million in one-time grant funding for schools to make security upgrades. HB140 requires emergency response drills to be developmentally appropriate for students and HB249 creates an online tool that empowers parents with information and resources when their student has been subject to bullying, cyberbullying or other abusive behavior.

We also adopted a bill to address chronic absenteeism through prevention and intervention and another to empower school resource officers to address illegal conduct on school grounds and make referrals to juvenile courts when appropriate.

Housing costs

Housing costs have become a serious issue for people across our state. The Legislature passed HB364, Housing Affordability Amendments, and HB406, Land Use, Development, and Management Act Modifications, to create more housing options by reducing regulatory barriers at the local level, facilitating market-based solutions and increasing housing in rural Utah. We also passed SB240, which creates a first-time homebuyer assistance program that will provide first-time homebuyers up to a $20,000 to buy down interest rates, make a down payment and pay closing costs.

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Stewardship

As Utahns, we all share in the sacred stewardship of our great state. We use the word stewardship because it implies taking care of something throughout the time it is entrusted to our care and leaving it better for those who come after us.

Water is among our most precious resources. Our wet winter has been a big help, but it isn’t enough to erase two decades of drought. This session, the Legislature invested nearly $500 million in Great Salt Lake, agriculture optimization and water conservation.

To protect our air and keep goods and people moving throughout our state, we invested over $2 billion in transportation including roads, trails and transit.

And to combat irresponsible federal energy policies that rush to depend on renewable energy sources that simply cannot support demand yet, we passed several policies aimed towards safeguarding Utah’s ability to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy.

Throughout our state’s history — and even dating back to our time as a territory — Utahns have embraced the spirit of taking the long view. Hard work is our hallmark, and we’re not afraid of doing the hard thing today to make tomorrow a little better.

Decades of preparation positioned us perfectly to capitalize on an unprecedented opportunity, and Utah lawmakers stepped up to meet the moment. The decisions we made this session will define Utah’s next decade and beyond, and the future is very bright.

Brad Wilson is the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.