Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wants to stop state colleges and universities from raising tuition next year in the hopes of making higher education more affordable.
“You know what would help people? A tuition freeze,” Cox said Thursday at his monthly news conference. “That’s something I will be proposing, is a tuition freeze, across the board this year. I believe we should not be increasing tuition.”
Cox’s proposal comes a month after he and 21 other Republican governors formally asked the White House to withdraw President Joe Biden’s federal student loan forgiveness program, which went live earlier this week.
The loan forgiveness program is “great,” Cox said on Thursday, but he’d prefer for Congress to be involved with an effort of that magnitude. He argued the forgiveness program doesn’t address the issue at hand — the increasing cost of tuition.
The state has the resources to figure out how to do “more with less” and has been “very generous” to higher education in recent years, the governor told reporters.
When asked if the Utah System of Higher Education was supportive of that effort, Cox replied, “They will be.”
Cox later shared his thoughts on Utah Sen. Gene Davis’ announcement Wednesday that he would retire from the Legislature effective Nov. 19. Earlier Wednesday, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said an investigation found the allegations made by a former intern likely violated the Legislature’s harassment policy. In August, a former legislative intern accused Davis of sexual misconduct.
Cox said he believed the Utah Senate investigation was thorough and handled the right way, commending both sides of the political aisle. He added, “I believe it was the right outcome.”
Members of the media also asked the governor about several 2022 midterm election races in the Legislature.
Cox was asked about the House District 72 race, where candidate Willie Billings lost by 10 votes to opponent Joseph Elison for the GOP nomination this summer. Billings has since questioned the outcome of the race and sued Washington County in the hopes the county would count votes by hand rather than by machine.
The GOP governor said there’s “no question” that baseless election fraud allegations have damaged public trust in Utah’s election systems, and added that a close race is not a basis for candidates to cry election fraud.
“It’s unfortunate,” Cox said, “because it’s so much easier for people who lose to just say, ‘well, there’s no way I could have lost, it must be a rigged election,’ with no proof at all. That’s just sad and unfortunate that candidates take that track.”
After talking about election security, Cox was later asked for his thoughts on the House District 16 race, where GOP nominee Trevor Lee faces a write-in opponent in longtime lawmaker Steve Handy.
Lee defeated Handy during the Davis County Republican convention in March, and Handy did not gather the signatures needed to secure a spot in the June primary elections. Handy has recently campaigned using a car with a large pen attached to the top. On Thursday, Cox called Handy’s strategy “a really clever idea.”
Since his convention win, Lee was rebuked by GOP leaders after The Salt Lake Tribune reported Lee ran a secret Twitter account that attacked women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The GOP nominee also attacked Cox, calling the governor “spineless.”
While Cox declined to endorse either candidate, saying he hadn’t been asked for an endorsement, he did share his praise of Handy.
“Steve Handy is an incredible lawmaker and a great friend. There is no question about it,” Cox said.