Guest Column: Rep. Harshman Says "Good News For Wyoming's Future"

In a guest column, Rep. Steve Harshman writes, "As I look back at my childhood growing up in Wyoming in the 60s and 70s, it amazes me that we are closer to 2070 than we are 1970. Time marches quickly on! Let’s keep our eye on the horizon, our future is bright, and we are blessed to live in this great state."

Rep. Steve Harshman

April 15, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

With the General session of the 67th Wyoming Legislature in the rear-view mirror, I want to look out the windshield to the future and share some good news that will benefit our state for generations to come.

In Wyoming, we are known for investing in our people. Our small population necessitates we find innovative ways to solve problems to meet people’s needs in the most fiscally responsible way. However, over time needs shift and landscapes change, compelling us to reexamine how we approach topics and issues.

Wyoming’s healthcare infrastructure is one topic where we know we need changes. But before we can move forward, it’s important to understand how we got here.

Wyoming is one of only a handful of states that does not have a medical school to train our own doctors. This was a statewide political topic in the 70s that ended in a compromise in 1976 to create a medical residency program in Casper and Cheyenne. While this has had some success, less than 25% of the residents who participate stay and practice in Wyoming.

In addition to the residency programs, over the last five decades, the State “purchased” student slots at the University of Utah and Creighton University to train 30 doctors per year. We have since left those programs and purchased 20 student slots at the University of Washington. Part of the challenge is demographics. We are getting older, and our care providers, on average, are some of the oldest in the country.

Wyoming has, however, significantly invested in training nurses at our community colleges and the University. But, besides pharmacists and nurse practitioners, every other healthcare provider is trained outside our state.

This means our dollars and young people continue to build other states’ healthcare infrastructure. Like many Wyomingites, my primary care provider is a Physician Assistant. Recognizing this, I brought the first Physician Assistant training bill to the Legislature in 2007. It has taken a long time, but this past session, a budget amendment of mine was adopted into law that sets up a Physician Assistant training program at the University.

While it will take a couple of years to go through the accreditation process, this initiative has the potential to be one of the most important higher education projects that our state undertakes in our lifetimes and will impact every town in Wyoming. This is truly good news! A special thanks to Senate President Driskill, who helped usher a successful budget through the Legislature.

The next piece of good news is a life-changing investment in our people, appropriately name Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship. In the next few weeks, you will see the Kick Start or precursor of this program aimed at developing a resilient workforce. Wyoming people will have the opportunity to acquire new skills in a growing and changing economy.

After meeting certain criteria, the program will provide up to two years of tuition assistance for those who need to retrain and acquire new skills. The program will be funded by a permanent endowment using surplus one-time mineral revenues. The interest from this trust fund will operate this program in perpetuity without burdening our state’s current and future taxpayers.

Thoughtful initiatives like this take time. This work started in the Spring of 2019 when I was Speaker of the House, and I chaired the task force with former Senator Wasserburger from Gillette.

Four years later, we are ready to kick off the program for the first 350 Wyomingites ready to enhance their skills and careers. A thank you to Speaker Sommers and my past and present legislative colleagues who have supported and shared this vision for our Wyoming people.

Finally, we reflect on our predecessors who founded our great state with our public lands and permanent land fund in 1890 and later Gov. Hathaway’s push for the severance tax and permanent mineral trust fund in 1975.

Their forethought set us in a unique position for the stability of our future. Wyoming’s permanent funds total over 15 billion dollars, generating over 30% of our state general operating revenues in investment earnings. This is a near-permanent insurance policy against a state income tax. We in Wyoming have become experts at saving one-time monies during the booms and putting them to work for Wyoming’s future.

The Hathaway Scholarship and Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship, the Culture Trust Fund, the Wildlife Natural Resources Trust Fund, State Fair, Outdoor Recreation, and suicide prevention efforts are all examples of using one-time boom funds. I think Wyoming should consider a similar initiative to provide permanent funding to train our future healthcare providers.

Finally, this past legislative session, we recognized the value of growing our savings and saved an incredible 1.4 billion dollars! Saving three dollars for every dollar we spent for general operations in our biennial budget is good news for all Wyomingites.

As I look back at my childhood growing up in Wyoming in the 60s and 70s, it amazes me that we are closer to 2070 than we are 1970. Time marches quickly on! Let’s keep our eye on the horizon, our future is bright, and we are blessed to live in this great state.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve and as the sun comes up every morning, let’s keep working for Wyoming!

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Rep. Steve Harshman