Governor Cox addressed young Utahns in his annual speech. Is the Utah government addressing the issues that matter to youth?

I thought Governor Spencer Cox’s speech last week was a good one.

You can read the full transcript here, but in short, Cox’s main rhetorical device was to focus on Utah’s young people – smart, in the nation’s youngest state. Cox urged Utah’s youth to “believe in our ability and commitment to solve today’s tough problems together,” and then outlined some of his policy priorities for the following 45-day legislative session. It was a nice touch to refer to each bill mentioned in his speech by the children of the bill’s legislative supporters, not by the lawmakers themselves.

So my next thought was to see if I could find out if the political priorities of Cox—and the state legislature—actually aligned with the interests of Utah’s young people. Is there data on what is really important to young people? And, most importantly, is the Cox and Utah government addressing these concerns?

What is important to young people?

There was only one study or survey I could find in the last decade that specifically attempted to understand the issues that matter to certain age demographics in Utah. That came in the Utah Foundation’s report, “What’s on Utah’s Mind: Voter Issues and Concerns in 2020.”

Utah Foundation survey of what matters to Utah residents by generation. (

Helpful to know: Utah millennials named healthcare as their #1 priority, followed by K-12 education and public health. Affordable housing and partisanship were considered more important by millennials than the other generations surveyed.

But the Utah Foundation’s study didn’t include the opinions of Generation Z children, who are generally considered to be those born after 1997 or so. And of course, priorities may have shifted since 2020 as well. So, in order to get an overview of these issues, we may need to look at the research being conducted in America more generally.

The Alliance For Youth Action surveyed 2,332 people ages 17 to 39 in the 2022 Battleground States: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. She noted that inflation and the economy were the top issues for young people in these states in this last election.

Alliance For Youth Action poll of young people in battleground states ahead of 2022 elections. ( -Issues-and-Voting-August-2022.pdf)

In addition, the protection of access to abortion, democratic reform, affordable health care and climate change were the main topics.

Harvard’s Youth Poll polled 2,123 American young adults ages 18-29 ahead of the 2022 election and found a fairly similar distribution of top issues.

Harvard Public Opinion Project survey of young Americans ages 18-29. (

In this poll, the top five issues were inflation, abortion, protecting democracy, climate change and gun control.

Finally, the GenForward poll polled 2,555 Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 and asked them, “What do you think is the most important issue facing this country today?” There was a lot of different answers.

GenForward survey of American adults ages 18-40. (

However, the top answers were economic growth, gun control, women’s rights, income inequality and abortion.

Just for your convenience, here is a table that brings together the top five issues in all of these studies in one place.

What is Utah doing about these issues?

Obviously we could, have written and will continue to write countless articles on each of these subjects. Some will be specifically addressed in this 2023 legislative period, while others are on the back burner. However, here is a brief summary of the issues that appear in at least two of the top 5 lists above.

• In relation to inflationCox said in his speech that “nearly all the levers of inflation are beyond our state’s control.”

Perhaps the greatest leverage the government has is its tax policy: economists generally agree that tax cuts put inflationary pressures on the market because they increase market demand for goods people care about. Cox proposed a $1 billion tax cut package that includes a 0.1% cut in Utah’s income tax rate and a one-time $400 million rebate ranging from $100 for low-income households to $1,345 for high-income households varies. On the other hand, tax cuts put more money in people’s hands to engage in higher-priced items.

Utah’s inflation rate is one of the highest in the nation, and the biggest factor is Utah’s housing market. Lawmakers are considering a range of measures to incentivize housing construction – perhaps the Headline Act would reduce the number of public comment periods allowed before a project is built.

health care is a focus for young Utahans, and Utah is expected to have a $250 million health care surplus from Medicaid next year. They propose capitalizing on it by expanding eligibility especially for pregnant women – first by raising the qualifying income threshold from 144% of the poverty line to 200% for them, then extending postpartum care from 60 days to 12 months. 29 states have already taken this last step.

However, the GOP side of the legislature is also trying to pass bills that remove health care options for young Utahans, particularly transgender Utahans. Cox did not mention this issue in his speech.

• Accordingly abortion access is apparently on everyone’s lips for young adults following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision this summer. Cox, in particular, and most state legislatures prefer to restrict women’s access to abortions.

Specifically, it proposes a joint resolution that would limit the ability of judges to issue injunctions preventing legislative changes — such as Utah’s abortion-triggering law — from going into effect. Other bills would redefine abortion and abortion exceptions to make them friendlier to doctors who otherwise feel they could be penalized for non-abortion procedures.

• A theme like Democracy reform and electoral law could refer to anything from gerrymandering to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Still, Cox didn’t address any of them in his speech. You will recall that Cox and the legislature approved the 2021 circuit election plan, which made Utah voters less important than ever and overturned the Democratically-backed Proposition 4. And yes, I’m still angry about it.

However, some bills in the legislature deal with elections. Perhaps most notable to me is HB69, which states that anyone who changed their party affiliation from April 1 to the date of a primary election would not allow that change to take effect until after that election. In other words, they’re trying to prevent Utahns from temporarily registering as Republicans, thereby reducing the number of voters in these closed primary. Meanwhile, HB171 would end the ranking-choice voting experiment in Utah. HB269 would require elective exams every two years.

Arms Control is important to youth across the country, even though Utah’s guns proliferate freely.

Two proposed bills would add a waiting time between buying a gun from a dealer and having it delivered. HB89 would cause a five-day delivery delay for all types of weapons, while SB50 would cause a 10-day delivery delay for assault weapons. Both have exceptions for law enforcement and those with concealed carry permits. HB225 would require police to conduct a background check on an individual to ensure they may lawfully own a firearm before returning that firearm from evidence after it has been seized.

• A series of invoices related to climate change are in the state legislature — some would fight climate change in Utah, others could exacerbate it. The Utah Clean Energy Legislative Tracker shows the status of these bills.

Specifically, HB303 would create a tax on EV charging at EV charging stations from previously submitted bills while reducing Utah’s fuel tax. HB220, on the other hand, creates the Pollution Emission Reduction Act, which would take several steps to reduce emissions from various polluters and improve air quality.

Of course, the focus of this session was the status of water policy in Utah and the conservation of the Great Salt Lake. Here’s our summary of the legislation on the table.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism. Governor Cox addressed young Utahns in his annual speech. Is the Utah government addressing the issues that matter to youth?

Justin Scacco

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