It is our responsibility to build a better Utah for our children than the Utah that was built for us. And after the votes are tallied in this race, we'll have to look the next generation in the eye and promise we haven't let them down. Either we move forward or we move backward. But staying in place is not an option.
The key to the future is to unlock the job-creating potential of our people, and to expand Utah's global reach and competitiveness, by investing in education here at home. A highly talented, educated population is essential to achieving the job-creating, pioneering capacity of our people.
To make this happen, I will find the funds necessary to meet the national average in per-pupil education spending, reduce class sizes, support excellence in teaching through peer review and rewards for good teachers, invest in early education and establish STEM zones at the elementary school level.
My first order of business will be to outline a four-year plan to take our state from 50th to 30th in per-pupil funding. We now have a 30-year plan for our roads and ideas for how to fund it, but no plan for our kids and no ideas for how to fund their schools. In fact, we are $2.2 billion behind in education funding. To close the gap, we need to evaluate all our sources of revenue from earmarks to incentives to taxes.
My second order of business will be to present a 10-year plan that aligns the top 10 most popular college majors with the top 10 highest-paying jobs. I will call for Engineer 2020, an innovative initiative to educate 30,000 more engineers by 2020 through industry partnerships and improved K-12 education. I will also focus on funding and expanding technology programs like USTAR.
Rather than use $646 million in tax incentives to lure out-of-state businesses, I will use incentives to energize and grow small businesses here in Utah the real engines of economic growth. And instead of a hodge-podge of economic development plans, I will work with leaders in our seven major geographical regions to design an economic strategy that grows Utah from the bottom up and the middle out, not the top down.
A recent survey of more than 6,000 small business owners, conducted by George Washington University, concluded that "ethics, honesty and corruption in government" was the second most important issue to entrepreneurs. It's little wonder, then, that we need ethics reform in our state. Our politics is awash in a multi-million dollar financial arms race where political contributions are now the sport of the wealthy and where average citizens feel marginalized and disenfranchised.
Utahns have stopped voting, in fact, because we don't believe in our government, its ability to serve us or its ability to do what it is designed to do. I will start with campaign finance reform by calling for limits on all contributions. I will also prohibit public officials from accepting contributions from companies bidding for state projects.
We must overturn laws that allow industry executives to sit on boards that are supposed to regulate those industries. We must also repeal legislation that has concentrated more and more power in the hands of fewer and fewer decision-makers, specifically the undemocratic way members of the Utah State Board of Education are chosen.
The last step is bridging the trust deficit. There should be term limits so public officials serve for the right reasons.
On Nov. 6, Utah voters have a clear choice for governor: Accept the status quo or elect a new leader who has a vision for a brighter future.
Peter Cooke is the Democratic candidate for governor of Utah.
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