State leaders took a victory lap Thursday after a report named Utah as the state with the best economic outlook for the 16th year in a row.
The report, issued by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative-leaning policy group, is based on several variables, including tax rates, minimum wage, average workers' compensation costs and the number of state employees per capita.
Utah's Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said the state's conservative principles and governance are behind the continued rosy outlook for its economic future.
"It's truly an honor to celebrate an unprecedented 16th year in a row as the state with the best economic outlook," he said during a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday. "Utah's commitment to free market values, low taxes, small government, and opportunity for all is proving — time and time again — that this is truly a recipe that works. ... This data-driven approach holds states accountable and shows exactly how states can find a path to prosperity. This roadmap to success is key to good government."
He went on to say efforts to address the concerns Utah is facing would face an uphill climb without economic stability.
"You can't solve homelessness, you can't solve housing, you can't work on education if you don't have a healthy economy, and this year we proved that we can do all of those things," he said.
Legislative leaders joined Cox to celebrate the recognition, and pointed out policy achievements they say were made possible by the state's strong economic outlook. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the Utah Legislature's record investment in education and infrastructure show how important a strong economy is.
"Again and again and again — for the third year in a row — (are) the record tax cuts in the state of Utah," he said. "That doesn't happen by chance, and that's what a strong economy does. It's great to be in Utah."
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, put into perspective just how long Utah has held the top stop in the American Legislative Exchange Council's rankings.
"I also thought about what's happened in the last 16 years," he said. "Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone 16 years ago this year. Sometimes it seems like that's happened quickly, and other times it seems like it was a millennium ago. The last 'Harry Potter' book was released 16 years ago. So that dates us, doesn't it?"
According to the Rich States, Poor States report, Utah received top marks in the nation for not levying an estate or inheritance tax, being a right-to-work state and having the lowest minimum wage allowed under federal law: $7.25 per hour. The state ranked sixth in lowest average of workers' compensations costs.
American Legislative Exchange Council CEO Lisa Nelson said Utah is an example to other states looking to replicate its strong economic environment.
"I will say that there are states nipping at your heels, and they've seen what you've done," she said.
In summarizing the research, Jonathan Williams, chief economist and executive vice president of policy at American Legislative Exchange Council, had a message for other states: "Strive to be more like Utah and less like California and New York."