Governor Matt Mead delivered his 2013 State of the State address today speaking to a Joint Session of the Wyoming House and Senate. Governor Mead said Wyoming is strong. He said the state's strength provides an opportunity to tackle tough issues from a long-term funding source for highways to health care to education.
"There will be difficult decisions to be sure but what we do this session is all about progress for our state, not about our personal popularity. By making the difficult decisions we have the chance to leave a better legacy for Wyoming," Governor Mead told the 62nd Wyoming Legislature.
Governor Mead's recommendations to the Legislature include:
-- Build savings;
-- Reduce the ongoing budget;
-- Cut the size of government;
-- Streamline state regulations;
-- Decide on the funding mechanism for our highways;
-- Change fiscal policies to build up the rainy-day account; and
-- Provide funding for major items including wildfires, landfills, local government, the Gillette-Madison water project, UW School of Engineering and employee performance pay.
Governor Mead said his proposal to reduce ongoing spending by over $60 million per year is necessary because Wyoming is losing federal Abandoned Mine Land money, incurred significant expenses from wildfires, had its budget double in size over the last decade, continues to see mineral price and production fluctuations, and faces uncertainty about the nation's debt and deficit.
"We have the opportunity to reduce the standard budget in a very deliberate and considered way -- at a time when revenue is flat but stable and our state continues to grow. In fact, last year we were the 4th fastest growing state in the country. We face no immediate economic crisis. Therefore, this is an opportunity we should take -- not miss," Governor Mead said.
He also laid out his priorities for one-time spending. These one-time proposals are for landfills, local governments, the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, data center recruitment, transformational energy projects, the Gillette-Madison water project and the UW School of Engineering. "This is one-time money, and these are one-time expenses -- they will improve our future without growing our next budget," Governor Mead said.
Two years ago in his State of the State address Governor Mead proposed using a portion of the severance tax that goes into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to pay for highways. The Legislature rejected that proposal. There is a shortfall of $130 million plus per year in funding for highways. Governor Mead reiterated the importance of highways to Wyoming. "It is a conservative principle to pay as you go rather than using savings to pay for an ongoing expense. It is a conservative principle to pay as you go rather than creating a debt for others to fix. That is what Congress is doing creating a debt and deficit for our kids and grandkids to pay. Not properly maintaining and funding highways today is the same concept, we are creating a debt for those who come after us." Governor Mead asked the Legislature to increase the fuel tax or support his original proposal this year.
Another topic Governor Mead said the Legislature needs to resolve this year is education. He said that he, the Legislature, and the State Superintendent all believe education is a priority. "We've got the funding. We've got the buildings. We've got the great teachers. Now we need to increase high school graduation rates, improve college readiness, and have a long-term path to excellence. We owe it to our kids and to our state. There needs to be a clear message to people, administrators, everyone -- that Wyoming will not accept the status quo and that Wyoming will have a predictable, accountable, long-term path to educational excellence," Governor Mead said.
Addressing health care, Governor Mead said he continues to believe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not good policy. "Unfortunately there is no magic wand waving, there is no approach that will extricate us from the ACA. It is upon us and we must act."
Full implementation of the ACA begins in 2014 and Governor Mead said now is the time to prepare a set of conditions for Wyoming to submit to the federal government on a health insurance exchange and Medicaid optional expansion. "This body (the Legislature) has the opportunity to develop what we would like to see in that request. Now, perhaps the federal government will not agree to our terms. We can say no if they do not, but it is far better that we express our terms and make a request than to not make a request and get a package without our input. Let's view this as an opportunity for innovation."
Governor Mead said Wyoming's greatest asset is its people and he recognized several citizens at today's State of the State address. These included two coal miners, Wyoming's teacher of the year, representatives of the Tribes, outgoing UW President Tom Buchanan, a student from Greybull, members of the Wyoming National Guard, an entrepreneur from Sheridan and the creator of a non-profit foundation focused on suicide prevention.