Guest Column: Extreme Partisanship Is Hurting Wyoming Businesses

Rep. Trey Sherwood writes, “Many of my colleagues at the Capitol — and particularly in the radical Freedom Caucus — are actively trying to defund state agencies and programs that I have seen firsthand help Wyoming businesses flourish.”

CSD Staff

March 04, 20244 min read

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I am optimistic that Wyoming can grow its small businesses, create good-paying jobs at local companies and successfully diversify its statewide economy.

I am hopeful because, as director of Laramie’s Main Street program, I’ve been deeply involved in the process of developing a thriving downtown business district.

Since 2021, I’ve brought my passion for building local economies to the Wyoming House of Representatives. As a Democratic state legislator, I advocate for laws and a budget that invests in our communities and supports hardworking small businesses across our state.

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues at the Capitol — and particularly in the radical Freedom Caucus — are actively trying to defund state agencies and programs that I have seen firsthand help Wyoming businesses flourish.

Instead of joining together to make sure our communities prosper, much of their time is spent fighting over hot-button social issues that have nothing to do with the budget or making sure we have industries that provide good-paying jobs tomorrow and into the future.

This extreme partisanship is bad for business and blocks what’s best for Wyoming.

Myself, and my Democratic colleagues, are dedicated to making smart investments in the budget and crafting policies that help communities and businesses, regardless of their size, succeed.

Back in my district, entrepreneurs are the heart of Albany County’s economy. We lack the energy industries that are major business drivers elsewhere in the state. As Wyoming tries to diversify its economy and create good-paying jobs in other sectors like health care and manufacturing, growing our small business communities — from Evanston to Sundance, from Burns to Alpine — will be a major part of the solution.

This is why the proposals I bring as a state lawmaker focus on solutions to problems facing local businesses. I sponsored two bills this year: one to make it easier for communities to deal with abandoned or nuisance buildings, and another to allow workers to buy into a voluntary insurance plan for family and medical leave coverage.

No matter how appealing a local business makes itself, it won’t find success if there’s a crumbling building next door full of junk. We need to provide municipalities tools to deal with these nuisances, including offering tax credits to the property owners to remove dangerous buildings or bring them up to code.

At the same time, small businesses often struggle to afford comprehensive insurance for their employees. I’ve witnessed local employers lose talented young workers to larger companies with better benefits — often out of state — when they decide to start a family. Establishing a voluntary paid leave program would allow skilled employees to raise families while working in our small businesses without burdening their employers.

Both of these bills won bipartisan majorities of support when I brought them to the Legislature this year, but opposition from the Freedom Caucus stopped them from receiving the two-thirds vote they needed for introduction during a budget session.

While I’m disappointed these bills died, I’ll bring them back next year because Wyoming’s small business owners deserve solutions. I am more disheartened by the Legislature’s general lack of focus on strengthening our local economies and, in some cases, the outright hostility from some toward state-funded programs that help businesses succeed.

By and large, the Wyoming House passed a version of the budget that is very pro-business, helpful to large and small companies alike. But this is only because we managed to defeat attempts by Freedom Caucus members to cut funding from the Wyoming Business Council, the Business Ready Community Grant Program, the Women’s Small Business Development Center, the Wyoming Tourism Board, and the public schools and community colleges that train our workforce.

The lawmakers who argue that we should cut the legs out from under these agencies are the same ones who say that small Wyoming towns shouldn’t exist because they’re “welfare states.”

I disagree. Wyoming is a small town with long streets, and the well-being of my community depends on the success of my neighbor. We cannot build a future for our state by defunding business and workforce services. The voters in my district want good jobs, affordable healthcare, quality schools, and public lands where we can recreate.

These are not partisan issues — they’re Wyoming issues that I and my fellow Democrats will continue to prioritize despite the bickering and political rhetoric that grabs the spotlight these days.

Trey Sherwood represents House District 14 in Laramie

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CSD Staff