In early February, a high-level executive from General Electric met with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and complimented him on Utah's reputation as a well-managed state. Thinking the visiting executive had been given the information by his staff and was mentioning it to be polite, Bell thanked him and asked who had told him of our state's reputation for prudent management. The GE executive assured him that Utah's solid management is widely acknowledged in the business world.
The 104 members of the Utah Legislature concluded a successful 45-day session on March 14 and they deserve the thanks of all Utahns for their service. Utah's business community also applauds them for the steps they took to strengthen our state economy and Utah's reputation for being well managed.
The Legislature invested in Utah's future workforce. Our elected officials heard the call for greater innovation, investment and accountability in education and took action. Their decision to adopt the dual goals of the Prosperity 2020 movement to have 90 percent of Utah's elementary school children proficient in reading and mathematics and 66 percent of all Utah adults with a college degree or skilled trade certificate by the year 2020 is an important step in the right direction.
Goals alone will not improve educational performance in our state. The Legislature took practical, important steps toward achieving these goals. They fully funded growth in public and higher education. They ensured all high school students will be better prepared for the ACT exam. And they funded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics action center that will help implement the best practices for teaching students subjects that will drive our economy in the decades ahead.
The Legislature also strengthened Utah's economy by making smart decisions to improve our health system. By 2020, the U.S. will need 91,500 more doctors than we are projected to have, and Utah is among the states with the lowest number of doctors per capita in the country. Our elected officials funded an additional 40 seats at the University of Utah medical school. All the additional seats are required to be filled by students with Utah ties who are more likely to practice in our state when their training is complete.
The business community also supports action taken to strengthen the commercial insurance market by making it easier for families to utilize government premium subsidies to purchase private insurance.
Moving goods and services is also vital to our economy. The Legislature continued its commitment to transportation infrastructure by approving $336 million for over 20 projects.
Our ability as a state to enhance community prosperity through innovation has set us apart. Legislators adopted an innovative plan to enhance Utah's air quality by converting buses and state fleet vehicles to clean-burning CNG and building natural gas fueling and maintenance infrastructure. A general session that took place during extended inversions and poor air quality produced a pragmatic approach to convert the worst-polluting vehicles into some of the cleanest. Each bus converted to CNG is the equivalent of converting 36 cars to the cleaner-burning fuel.
The Utah Constitution requires a balanced budget, but just because something is required doesn't make it any less a challenge. The Legislature balanced the budget without a general tax increase and added some $50 million to the rainy day fund.
Utah has been recognized nationally as the best-managed state and the Legislature strengthened that reputation during this session. The business community thanks these elected officials for their dedicated service and we will continue to work in partnership with them to strengthen the state economy.
Ray Pickup is chair of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors and president and CEO of Workers Compensation Fund.