SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah Gov. Gary Herbert gave the state’s lawmakers a passing grade for their work in this year’s session, which came to a close in the wee hours Tuesday night.
He highlighted the fact that the Legislature balanced a roughly $13 billion state budget that matched his priorities for education spending, while working together and avoiding drama.
“This has been a very good, very successful session,” Herbert told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday night. “The completed work is going to be very representative of the people of Utah.”
Here’s what the Republican governor said about the ongoing investigation of Attorney General John Swallow, attempts to improve air quality, and on the state’s looming decision regarding Medicaid expansion:
_ ATTORNEY GENERAL: Lawmakers passed a final-hour measure to fix a gap in state election law, so Swallow can’t investigate himself in a complaint filed by a progressive political group. The group alleges that Swallow violated election law by failing to report several business interests on his campaign disclosures. Swallow’s campaign consultant said the complaint is without merit.
Herbert said he’s comfortable with that legislation, which shores up what would have been a clear conflict of interest.
“People can feel good that the investigation is fair and independent and there’s no attempt to spin the investigation,” Herbert said.
_ AIR QUALITY: Protesters came to the Capitol on Thursday to call out the Legislature for not doing enough to address Utah’s murky air, which was among the nation’s worst for several weeks this winter.
Herbert said you can never satisfy everybody but highlighted a number of important steps taken recently to improve air quality. He noted that the Legislature has added a staffer to the Division of Air Quality, and that his office has been working with them since last October.
He called a measure the Legislature passed that helps government, school districts and businesses buy natural gas vehicles a “big deal.” Switching the state’s fleets from diesel and petroleum to compressed natural gas would “cut our emissions by about half,” he said.
The most fundamental change needs to come in the mindsets of the state’s residents and businesses about the issue, Herbert said. A big source of the winter pollution comes from vehicle tailpipes, a key reason why he’s an advocate of more people using the Salt Lake City area’s expansion public transit system.
“We have some that think it’s everyone’s problem but mine,” Herbert. “It’s all of our problem.”
The state made significant strides in the past year, including in the legislative session. He said he’ll continue to push for more work.
“I think it’s going to be an ongoing journey. We’re not going to solve it all tomorrow,” Herbert said. “But step by step, we’ll find better ways to improve the air quality here.”
_ MEDICAID: Herbert said he’s happy lawmakers recognized that the decision on Medicaid expansion is his to make. He also reiterated that he’s going to take his time to make the decision in a reasonable, rational, methodical way.
Lawmakers sought to pass a measure forcing the governor to reject expanding Medicaid, but lawmakers retreated from that idea and instead sent a bill to the governor mandating that he cannot make a decision until the state has reviewed detailed studies on the pros and cons of the expansion.
He said he understands the Legislature’s long-term concerns about the state’s budget. Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion in the first three years, but just 90 percent over the long haul.
Herbert said he’s also taking into consideration the fact that the state’s health care system is already low cost and high quality.
“We don’t want to throw out a good system for a mediocre system,” Herbert said. “So we’re being very careful.”
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