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Gov. Cox jabs at Legislature's culture-war politics and "tepid" response to free transit.

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click to enlarge Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at PBS Utah on Thursday, May 19. - TRENT NELSON | POOL PHOTO
  • Trent Nelson | Pool Photo
  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at PBS Utah on Thursday, May 19.

UNIVERSITY—The cost of a gallon of gas might not stop Gov. Spencer Cox from filling his tank, he said Thursday, but for some Utahns, the climbing price at the pump is enough to force difficult decisions.

For those Utahns, Cox said that less expensive or even free transit could offer a way to get around while saving money for other necessities.

"Even if it takes them longer to get to work, it's an option," Cox said. "My focus is on the most vulnerable, those who are really struggling right now."

Cox made those comments during his monthly televised press conference at PBS Utah. It was the second time in as many months that the governor highlighted free or low-cost transit as a potential tool in the state's belt for easing the impact of inflation.

During the month of February, Utah Transit Authority fares were suspended systemwide for a free fare pilot. Ridership surged as a result of the relatively inexpensive change (UTA fares generate roughly $2.8 million each month, a fraction of the authority's overall budget), with corresponding reductions in vehicle traffic and tailpipe emissions.

Cox said that talks with the Legislature are ongoing, but described leadership as "noncommittal" toward his anti-inflation suggestions.

"There’s been a tepid response to that, I would say," Cox said.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said that Utah is the best-managed state in the nation because lawmakers deliberate the short- and long-term impacts of policy.

"During the interim, the Legislature is studying reducing the cost of public transit and other measures that could provide relief to Utahns," she said. "Senate leadership wants to ensure the effects of inflation are minimized for all Utahns, not only those in the Wasatch Front who live near a TRAX or bus station."

Roughly 8 in 10 Utahns live along the Wasatch Front.

Cox also commented on divisive politics and incivility, saying Utah had taken "a few steps in the wrong direction," though not as drastic as national trends.

He initially alluded only to a "one big example" of the state Legislature erring and indulging in culture war distraction, clarifying when asked that he meant the state's ban on transgender student athletes, which he vetoed but was overridden.

"I believe the exhausted majority is still far outweighing those voices," he said. "We just don’t get heard as much."

Other topics addressed by Cox included the nationwide shortage of baby formula, the persistent severe drought in the American southwest, the restructuring of the Utah Inland Port Authority board and the likelihood of economic recession. Cox said he agreed with the decision by the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates, but said the decision came too late. He expressed confidence in the state's ability to weather a recession, but added that Utah is part of the U.S. economy and unavoidably impacted by its trends.

"We’ve been planning for a recession. We budget for recession," Cox said. "We have more rainy day funds now than we’ve ever had in the history of our state."

Cox also noted that his administration was celebrating 500 days in office, and touted a series of goals and metrics reached during his tenure, particularly around unemployment, government consolidation and rural development.

"In some ways it feels like five days," Cox said, "and in other ways, it feels like 5,000 days."

In a prepared statement, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said she is proud of what the administration has accomplished.

“We we have made record investments in education and infrastructure and fostered an economy that is the envy of the nation," she said. I cannot wait to see what the next 500 days have in store for our administration as we continue our work to expand opportunities for every Utahn.”

Click here to watch the full PBS Utah press conference.

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