Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spoke about the limited role of government, the importance of empowering the private sector and ways the state and Utah County can address the gender wage gap during a speech in Provo on Friday.
The governor’s comments came during a keynote address at the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce’s “Friday Forum” at the Zions Bank building.
“This is my home, so it’s great to be back here (in Utah County),” Herbert said.
Herbert, who is in the last year of his second term and has said he will not seek reelection, reflected on the state’s economic and population growth over the last decade.
“We’ve done pretty well in Utah,” the governor said, referring specifically to the high-performing economy and growing middle class. “The American Dream’s alive and well in Utah.”
Herbert spoke about his political and philosophical support for free market principles and the importance of limiting the role of government and doing “everything we can to empower the private sector.”
“And we’ve done that by making sure we have competitive tax rates,” he said. “We want to make sure that … families and individuals and businesses keep more of their hard-earned money.”
The governor said that he is not anti-government but believes it “ought to be very efficient and effective.” The only two roles of government, as Herbert sees it, are “leveling the playing field” and “making sure that bad guys are kept off the streets.”
He also spoke about the $20 billion budget proposal his office rolled out earlier this week. The areas of focus for spending this year are transportation — which includes addressing air quality — health care and education, Herbert said.
Someone at the event asked Herbert about the gender wage gap in the state and county. According to Department of Workforce Services and U.S. Census Bureau numbers, the median salaries of women working full-time in Utah County are 62% of men’s.
“The wage gap is something that I think is real,” Herbert said, adding that the discrepancy in wages likely has to do with Utah’s family-centric culture and that the state “has been a little slower to appreciate” women working full-time. “We are probably a little more traditional, and things are changing.”
He continued, “We believe (in) equal pay for equal work. We don’t care what your gender is.”
In an interview after his address, the governor said Utah County’s emphasis on community, charity and education are some of the characteristics that have helped it thrive economically.
“We have good people,” Herbert said. “It starts with good people that have a good work ethic that are outside-the-box thinkers, creative (and) innovative.”
He used the metaphor of soil. Seeds won’t grow unless they have good soil that is watered, maintained and cultivated.
“And that’s a metaphor for what’s happening here in Utah Valley,” said Herbert.
During the “Friday Forum” event, the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce swore in six new board members: Nate Hutchinson, CEO of Flagship Homes; Chris Anderson, a shareholder at Durham, Jones and Pinegar; Rob Behunin, director of government affairs at R&R Partners; Kyle Hansen, an administrator at Utah Valley Hospital; Kevin Dowdle, a senior relationship manager at Wells Fargo; and Katie Malbica, general manager at Home2 Suites by Hilton at Thanksgiving Point.
It also elected a new chair, with the Younique Foundation’s executive director, Chris Yadon, replacing Clyde Business Group President Jeremy Hafen.
Yadon said the county’s rapid population growth will be a primary focus of the chamber in 2020.
“The key thing that we’re trying to do at the chamber is get ahead of that growth rather than letting it happen to us” without a plan, said Yadon.
Rona Rahlf, CEO and president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s priorities for the year will be addressing air quality, water conservation, transportation, agriculture, housing and education in the county.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced the global Light the World: One by One effort generated nearly $6.3 million during this past Christmas season.
That annual effort includes the fourth year of the Giving Machines that were placed in 10 locations throughout the world, including University Place in Orem.
The Orem Giving Machines raised $1.3 million in donated goods and services.
Donations through the Giving Machines went to global charities including UNICEF, Church World Service, WaterAid, Water For People and International Medical Corps.
Several local groups are beneficiaries from the Orem Giving Machines, including Community Action Services and Food Bank, the Center for Women and Children in Crisis, United Way of Utah County and the Family Support and Treatment Center.
Donors at the Giving Machines were able to just swipe their credit cards and selected what they would like to donate. Items ranged in price from $5 to $350 and included everything from soccer balls to counseling. Items purchased according to the church also included chickens, meals, vaccines, shoes and glasses. In all, nearly 256,000 items have been purchased by the public for the global charitable effort.
Giving Machines were located in Orem, Salt Lake City, Gilbert, Arizona; San Jose, California; Denver, Colorado; Laie (Oahu), Hawaii; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York City; London, England; and Manila, Philippines.
A notice from the Provo City Housing Authority of plans to construct a new building left tenants in a Provo apartment complex concerned about the future.
For the 250 senior citizens living at the Valley Villa Senior Apartments in Provo, the notice created fears the changes would mean losing their current residence.
The notice stated that the Provo City Housing Authority, or PCHA, has plans to construct a new building for tenants and announced a meeting to be held Jan. 22 in the Valley Villa community room to provide information and answer questions about the conversion of public housing properties to Housing Choice Voucher assistance.
The memo given to residents said, “Our plan for Valley Villa would be to build a new building on the current site ... We will make every effort to minimize the disruption and relocation. We expect this project to take 2-3 years.”
Tim Torkildson, one of the concerned tenants, said in an email that tenants are all on very limited incomes and many in declining health with limited mobility. He says it would create challenges if there was not a transition plan in place.
“I only speak for myself, but I find this sudden general notice, with absolutely no details, to be terrifying,” Torkildson said.
Pam Liston, resident programs coordinator with the Provo City Housing Authority, said that no one would be displaced.
Currently, Valley Villa apartments are considered public housing. While plans are not finalized, PCHA anticipates using Housing Choice Vouchers in the near future to allow tenants to continue living at their current addresses.
“HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) is getting rid of public housing,” Liston said.
Public housing, as defined by the HUD Affordable Housing Guide, are low-rent housing units “owned and administered by a local housing authority. The tenant must apply at that authority. The program is available to families, elderly and qualified singles whose income is below certain limits.”
According to the PCHA, “The Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) provides low-income families, elderly and disabled individuals an opportunity to afford quality housing in the private rental market. The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) provides monthly rental assistance payments to private landlords on behalf of low-income households who have been determined eligible by the Housing Authority.”
Households earning less than 50% of the Area Median Income, or AMI, will income-qualify for the HCV program. Participants pay 30% of their gross adjusted income for rent, directly to their landlord, and the Housing Authority pays the balance of the rent to the landlord.
The PCHA administers 883 Housing Choice Vouchers.
If accepted into the public housing program, individuals will pay 30% of their adjusted income after allowances for minors and other factors. They also have to recertify their income annually. The units can be in an apartment complex or scattered sites such as single family homes.
Liston said the Provo Housing Authority will be transitioning away from HUD’s public housing model and working on how their housing units are managed and operated. She said those renting now will be paying the same rent and that while building demolition is expected to take two to three years, it could be as many as six years down the road at Valley Villa.
To alleviate any fear, the Housing Authority will provide tenants with a new notice clarifying the information and giving a reminder of the meeting time.
According to Torkildson, about a dozen residents at Valley Villa met Thursday evening to discuss the situation. He said while they were talking, representatives from Provo City Housing Authority showed up.
“They were anxious to reassure us that no one would be forced out of their apartment without the option of another place to go,” Torkildson said in an email.
He said the residents were told it was not an “official” visit and that what was said was not an “official statement.”
“They just wanted to say that we would be better off after the new building was finished and we would have first call to move back in,” Torkildson said.
PCHA and HUD will hold three meetings: a 2 p.m. meeting at Mountain View Apartments and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. meetings at Valley Vista Apartments all on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Until then, Liston said they are working on the paperwork and a plan for how the transition from HUD’s public housing program will look and how a tenant voucher will be implemented.