Utah’s race for Governor is underway with Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox facing University of Utah law professor Chris Peterson, a Democrat. To understand how they plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs, support family caregivers, expand broadband internet, create livable communities, adjust Utah’s budget and taxes, AARP Utah posed five key questions to each candidate. Here are their 60-second video responses, with transcripts:
1. With the rising cost of vital prescription drugs that many Utahns rely on, what steps do you plan to take to ensure that older people and their families have affordable access to these life-sustaining drugs?
Spencer Cox: Unfortunately, nationally, healthcare costs are rising to levels that have become unsustainable for many of our families. And innovation is policy space hasn’t happened in a long time. I believed that Utahns, medical manufacturers, and health providers are really ready to work there together to bring their expertise to the table to take steps toward solutions that work. We can maintain a high quality of care while tackling the problems of rising healthcare costs through sound policy, collaborative partnerships with contemporary healthcare providers, and by working with manufacturers to make sure no one is ever placed in a situation of having to choose life-saving medications. As Governor I will support legislation that requires greater transparency regarding prescription drug prices, allow drugmakers to promote and market drugs off label if the information consists of the truthful promotion of a drug, and support efforts to speed approval of cheaper generics.
Chris Peterson: I believe healthcare is a basic human right, and across my administration, I’ll take every step that I can to decrease the cost of healthcare. And that includes prescription drugs. I think that Utah should follow reforms based on the northwest prescription drug Consortium in Oregon and Washington. There private and public health insurance administrators are pooling their purchasing power to try to get the best possible prices on prescription medicine. And then they’re also publishing those prices so consumers across the state can look and see whether or not they’re being taken advantage of when they go to their Pharmacy or at the hospital. That’s the kind of simple, practical reform that Utah has not taken that I think would make a big difference in the daily lives of ordinary Utahns across the state. And finally, I’ll fight to make sure that we continue to fund the Medicaid expansion ballot measure that voters adopted two years ago. Thank you.
2. Family caregivers help older parents, spouses, and other loved ones live independently at home by providing assistance with activities like bathing and dressing, as well as performing complex medical and nursing tasks such as administering medicine and wound care. Family caregivers often provide these services with little or no training. How will you support working family caregivers who need to take time off to care for loved ones?
Chris Peterson: In the executive branch of government, if I’m Governor, I intend to do what I can to make sure that state employees have time off to take care of their loved ones when they need it. But across our economy, and more importantly, Utah should adopt a family medical leave law that allows family members, workers to take time off to care for their loved ones if somebody gets sick. At least a dozen states across the country have already adopted laws like this, and for a state like ours that prides itself on our family values, that should be something we can all agree on. In addition, I worry about the very low wages that are home health care workers, professional workers, are being paid across the state. Did you know that many home health care workers are only paid $9, $10, $11 an hour? And they themselves don’t qualify for medical insurance benefits. I’ll work to make sure that all employees in our state get a living wage.
Spencer Cox: As the youngest state in the nation, this is not only something that many Utahns are dealing with now but something that we must be on top of before the population begins to trend significantly older. Utahns are known for their family values, and volunteerism, and love of community, and often take on these responsibilities without thinking twice and without any training. If you’ve heard me speak before, you know I like to talk about telecommuting. Even before we started doing this year. As Governor, I will work to continue as much telecommuting as we can. Not only does it help caregivers by giving more flexible schedules to help loved ones, but it leads to better outcomes with in-state government. We need to make sure that state employees have the flexibility to take care of their families. We can also use technology and the resources of the state to help provide training for individuals who are taking care of their loved ones.
3. High-speed internet service, also known as Broadband, should be available to everyone regardless of where they live. High-speed internet access is especially important in rural communities to overcome isolation, improve access to healthcare, and help local businesses prosper. How will you ensure Utahns have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service? Including those living in rural areas? What will you do to promote high-speed internet expansion and quality improvements in Utah, especially in unserved and underserved communities?
Spencer Cox: This pandemic has taught us many things, but one of those is that it has underscored the need for reliable high-speed internet access across our state. Many voters may not know this, but this is what I did for a living as a telecommunications executive. Our company operated a local telecom bringing broadband fiber into rural parts of the state and also along the Wasatch Front. We really can’t afford to see the progress we’ve made this year slip away, and government does play an important role while working with the private sector to ensure that all Utahns are connected especially rural Utahns. Right now, we have important fiber optic projects bringing high-speed bandwidth into places like Dutch John and Manilla, as well as San Juan County. We will work with the federal government to continue to fund those expansions throughout rural Utah and make sure everyone has access to reliable broadband.
Chris Peterson: Access to the Internet is one of the most important infrastructure challenges the state of Utah is facing, and it would be a top priority in my administration to make sure we get broadband internet service all across the state. Did you know that in San Juan County, Dagget County, and Beaver County, less than 50% of the population and households have no access to the Internet at all? We should be taking advantage of rock-bottom interest rates right now and Utah’s AAA bond rating to issue bonds to try to cover the initial cost of expanding our broadband internet service all across the state. Including to Utahns down living down on the Navajo reservation. You know the state of Maine just voted to cover the cost of broadband internet across their state. Why is it that Utah, a state that prides itself on its Silicon Slopes industry, is falling behind? I’ll be a positive influence, actor for change, and try to get this done.
4. A livable community is one that is safe and secure, has housing that is affordable (defined as no more than 30% of income spent on housing), transportation options that allow individuals to travel by multiple means, and which offers supportive community features and services for people of all ages, allowing people to remain in their communities as they age. What steps will you take to ensure all Utahns have access to livable communities?
Chris Peterson: I think that we need to facilitate livable communities by encouraging zoning changes and using tax incentives to create livable walking neighborhoods for people who live in close to the places that they work. That’s going to decrease air pollution and also decrease the overall expenses we have to invest in our transportation infrastructure. That being said, we’ve also got to make sure that, especially along the more densely populated Wasatch Front, we’re investing public dollars into public transportation. And then last, part of the challenge and making sure that people have affordable housing is to make sure that we are building housing that people can afford. We’ve got to make sure that we’re encouraging living wage jobs. And we in Utah are long overdue for raising our minimum wage, which is still set it only $7.25 an hour. Many states are doing much better. Their economies are thriving with higher minimum wages that facilitate growing families.
Spencer Cox: Well, this is something that I’ve heard a lot about over the past year. We often talk about the American dream. But as I visited all 248 cities and towns, I heard a lot about what I like to call the Utah dream. We want Utah to be a place where children are happy and safe, and successful. Conversely, we want to grow old surrounded by our kids and grandkids and all of these great people in this incredible place. But this will require an intense focus on infrastructure both human and physical. We should never have to choose between quality of life and growth. We can do both, but we can only do it when we invest in infrastructure. Livable communities require high-quality, equitable education systems along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere in rural Utah as well. Forward-thinking on infrastructure, including roads, housing, water, and air quality.
5. What are some of your budget and tax priorities, and how do you think they will improve the lives of Utahans 50 and older?
Spencer Cox: This one is a really easy one to answer, and I’ll be able to do it in less than 60 seconds. And that is, we need to repeal the tax on social security income primarily targeted towards those that need financial relief. It was one of the few sound policy changes in the recent tax reform legislation, and we need to continue putting pressure on the legislature to look out for Utah senior citizens. We are one of the only a handful of states that still tax social security income and I would like to change that for Utah seniors.
Chris Peterson: Like many Utahans, I support low taxes. The challenge we have in Utah is that too much of our taxes are being paid by people with low income. If you look at all the different ways that the state government generates revenue. Income taxes, property taxes, user fees, sales taxes. In our state, low-to-moderate-income people bear a disproportionate burden of the overall expenses of operating our government. I think that is backward. I remember learning my core values is that to whom more is given a little bit more needs to be expected. That’s why historically, in America, we’ve had progressive income taxes. Utah is going in the wrong direction. And the worst example of that is recently government leaders adopted a food tax that nearly tripled the taxes on food which would be born disproportionately by low-income children and some of our seniors who are on a fixed budget. You can have confidence that across my administration, I’ll do everything I can to make sure that we’re supporting a progressive tax structure.
AARP Utah Voters Guide for the Utah Gubernatorial Election
Our thanks to Chris Peterson, Democratic candidate for Governor and Spencer Cox, the Republican candidate for Utah Governor, for their responses to these questions. You can find all of these videos and more information about the AARP Utah 2020 Voters Guide at aarp.org/utahvotes.
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