Jeff Burningham declares his candidacy for Utah governor

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Republican Jeff Burningham announces that he is running for governor during a news conference at the Utah Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.

From the steps of the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Jeff Burningham formalized his long-gestating campaign to be the state’s next governor in a speech that pitched the Provo businessman as an innovative entrepreneur and political outsider who would eliminate regulations on the private sector, modernize public education and advocate for rural communities.

As governor, Burningham said, he would have the confidence to do things differently, and would derive more satisfaction from signing bills that repeal existing laws than from signing bills creating new statutes.

“Game-changing leadership recognizes that government is absolutely not an engine of growth and opportunity, but a barrier to them," Burningham said. “I’ll get government out of your way.”

Burningham joins Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox as the second declared Republican candidate for governor in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the post since 1980.

A Democratic candidate, Zachary Moses, has also declared his candidacy, and several high-profile Republicans are expected or rumored to be preparing campaign launches, including former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, and former governor Jon Huntsman, who is returning to the state after resigning as U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

Asked what regulations he’d advocate for repealing, Burningham gave the example of occupational licensing, which he said disproportionately hurts low-income Utahns. He also said it is no longer a good strategy for the state to use tax incentives to bolster growth and development along the Wasatch Front, and that he’d like to see public education better tailored toward the modern job market and the expansion of “boot camp” style technology courses in schools.

Burningham declined to compare himself to Cox, who lives in Fairview and has a farming background, but said it will be up to voters in the rural areas of the state to decide who best represents their interests.

“I’ve been to all 29 counties in the state. I intend to go back,” Burningham said. “Rural Utah needs a fighter in their corner.”

A spokesman for the Cox campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Burningham also pushed back on an ongoing effort to restructure the state’s tax structure. A legislative task force recently completed a series of town halls throughout the state and is now conducting hearings on new taxing approaches, such as expanding sales taxes on service-oriented businesses or amending the state constitution to allow the spending of income tax revenue on noneducation programs.

Burningham said he favors a “top-to-bottom audit of government” to identify areas of inefficiency and unnecessary spending.

“We don’t have a revenue problem in the state,” Burningham said. “We may have a spending problem. We may have a government growth problem. There is not a revenue problem.”

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.