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Mark Gordon

Gordon Extends Wyoming Health Orders For Fifth Time

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Public health orders limiting the size of outdoor and indoor gatherings will remain in place for at least two more weeks, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday.

However, the rules have been relaxed in some areas to allow indoor group close-contact activities such as sporting events.

Gordon had cited a desire to see the impacts of the Labor Day holiday and the reopening of K-12 schools for in-person learning before easing the current health orders, something he echoed in his news conference last week.

“Wyoming has really held its own; Schools are open and sports are being played on Fridays and Saturdays,” Gordon said in the release. “We want to be careful to avoid going backwards and losing the high ground we hold. Steady progress beats the alternative, which would be devastating to our businesses, our schools and our citizens.”

Restrictions on gatherings have been slowly eased over time. Health officials have continuously evaluated the easing of those restrictions and the resulting impact.

There were minimal issues identified as a result of outdoor contact sports resuming under the rules in August, Gordon said. Health officials will continue to take specific, measured steps in the easing of orders, as conditions warrant.

Health orders continue to allow outdoor gatherings of no more than 50% of a venue’s capacity, up to 1,000 people, as long as social distancing and increased sanitization measures are in place.

Indoor gatherings in a confined space remain limited to 50 persons without restrictions and 250 persons if social distancing and sanitization measures are incorporated.

The governor and state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist noted that the procedures implemented by school districts across the state have been largely successful in limiting the spread of the virus.

Protocols including social distancing and mask usage by staff and students have been effective in preventing widespread outbreaks.

To date, no school buildings in Wyoming have been required to close.

Over the past 14 days, Wyoming has averaged approximately 31 new laboratory-confirmed cases per day, and the percent of COVID-19 tests with a positive result is 2.1.

As of September 15, Wyoming has recorded 3,762 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, 676 probable cases and 46 deaths. Nearly 138,000 tests have been completed by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory and commercial reference laboratories.

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Survey: Gov Gordon’s Social Media Audience Less Stressed About Pandemic Than Audience Of Any Other Governor

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Social media followers of Gov. Mark Gordon are less stressed about the coronavirus pandemic than the followers of any other governor in the country, a recent study has declared.

Social media analysis platform StatSocial released a study on Thursday that looked the social media accounts of all 50 U.S. governors. The study concluded that audiences of Republican governors showed lower levels of stress, anxiety and isolation as a result of the pandemic than followers of Democratic governors.

Gordon’s audience (including 6,000 followers on Twitter, 24,858 on Facebook, 3,100 on Instagram and 42 on Youtube) had the lowest level of concern about the pandemic of the audience of any governor. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (both Republicans) followed Gordon in that ranking.

Rounding out the top five least stressed audiences were those for Gov. David Ige of Hawaii and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, both Democrats.

StatSocial studied the audiences of all the governors in late July using a technology that analyzed more than 1.2 billion social accounts to understand influencer and trending topic audiences across more than 85,000 segments.

The most stressed audiences were mainly followers of Democratic governors, although South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was included in the top five ranking for anxious followers. The other four included Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshar and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The governors with the least concerned audiences when it came to just social isolation included Noem, Lee and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

On the other hand, Gordon’s social media followers were considered some of the most concerned when it came to social isolation, along with Ige, Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

The data also reflected topics such as which governors’ audiences were most engaged with conversations about firearms and self-defense and which were struggling the most with parenting during the pandemic.

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Gordon Keeps Existing Public Health Orders In Place

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon said he and other Wyoming officials want to be careful about easing the state’s current public health orders because they don’t want to find themselves in a position of having to reimpose restrictions later.

In a news conference Wednesday, Gordon and state Public Health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist provided updates on the coronavirus in Wyoming.

Gordon said he and other officials wanted to see how many cases pop up following the Labor Day weekend before taking the next step to further relax the state’s few remaining health orders designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Harrist noted there have been some cases of the coronavirus popping up in schools around the state, but no schools have had to close.

“This is an indicator of all of the efforts school administrators, staff, parents and students are putting in to ensuring safety while providing in-person education, which is so important for many children,” Harrist said.

She added that state health officials are seeing cases spring up from “preventable” situations, using an outbreak at the University of Wyoming as an example. Officials are blaming social gatherings in the university’s community for exposing more people to the virus.

Faced with 70 active coronavirus cases among university students and staff, University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel announced Wednesday that the university’s phased return plan for the fall semester would continue to be on a pause until at least Monday, partially to see how many cases pop up following the holiday weekend.

Harrist pointed out that some well-planned large gatherings have taken place without a hitch due to precautions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Then, informal gatherings of participants after the events led to the spread,” she said.

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Wyoming Applies Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds To Internet, Processing Plants

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two programs set up to help Wyoming businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are almost out of money, but the distribution of federal relief funds to help the state is continuing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a briefing, said the state is working to use the federal coronavirus relief money for items such as broadband service improvement, medical facility upgrades and agriculture relief as the two business relief programs still in operation draw to a close.

“Our two business relief programs are still open, but funding is beginning to run low,” he said. “These funds are open for small businesses and we are trying to be as accommodating with small businesses as we possibly can. We want to be sure the people of Wyoming and businesses of Wyoming have every opportunity to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by COVID-19.”

Of the $1.25 billion sent to the state through congressional action, the state has distributed $829 million, Gordon said.

Much of the money has been distributed through three business relief programs approved by the Legislature during a special session earlier this year.

Of the two programs still in operation, one is designed to offset the impacts on Wyoming businesses with up to 50 employees of business restrictions imposed to help limit the spread of coronavirus and the other is designed to compensate companies for the direct costs of dealing with the coronavirus, such as the purchase of protective equipment.

The state is required to spend the full $1.25 billion by the end of the year and the Legislature gave Gordon the authority starting Sept. 15 to spend any of the funds not already spent.

Gordon said one program that will use money will launch next week, when meat processing plant owners will be able to apply for funds to expand their operations. Gordon said meat producers around the state have been able to have their meat processed because of shortages of processing facilities.

The state has also used some of the money to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas of Wyoming.

“I’m pleased to report that some of the most rural parts of Wyoming will now have connectivity when these projects are completed,” he said.

The state has already started work to get some of the federal money into the hands of local governments and medical facilities

Reason For Optimism In Wyoming’s Future, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the economic problems that have forced Wyoming to make deep budget cuts to its government agencies, there is reason for optimism in the state’s future, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state is actually in good condition in several areas, including its low coronavirus infection and unemployment rate, and has been helped by actions that have been taken to provide assistance to portions of the state’s economy.

“This is a challenging time, but I do believe there are reasons for optimism,” he said. “There are bright days ahead because of the sacrifices we are making. Those are having positive effects and those positive effects will have a ripple into our economy.”

Gordon pointed specifically to Wyoming’s low rate of positive results on coronavirus tests, which are averaging 2.45%, and to the state’s unemployment rate of 7.1%, well below the national average of 10.5%.

The state has directed more than $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state’s small businesses and has worked to issue contracts for the cleanup and reclamation of old coal mines and oil wells, he said, to help offset losses seen in the state’s coal, oil and natural gas industries.

“This year we are spending more on more (reclamation) projects,” he said. “It is anticipated that we will spend more than $200 million this year.”

Gordon also noted that Wyoming was one of the few states to allow its state and county fairs to proceed.

Such forward steps will be important as the state continues its work to climb out of the economic problems created by the coronavirus pandemic and energy industry slump, he said.

“Right now Wyoming feels pretty good,” he said. “We’re doing what Wyoming does. Let’s just be mindful about it. Let’s make sure we have a successful fall. That’s what’s going to be important for us to get out of this economic slump.”

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Gordon: Budget Cuts Will Be Devastating And Just Tip Of The Iceberg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The first round of Wyoming government budget cuts as proposed by Gov. Mark Gordon has been finalized, totaling more than $250 million, with an additional $80 million in cuts to maintenance of state buildings.

The 10% cuts to state agencies, boards and commissions will have significant effects on Wyomingites and their communities because they will affect important services that people depend on and will reduce general fund dollars that enter the private sector, Gordon said Wednesday as he announced the cut.

Gordon said the state’s largest five agencies would see the largest cuts, totaling almost $200 million.

“These cuts that we have made are devastating, but necessary given the state’s fiscal picture,” Gordon said in a news release. “A third of our revenue has dried up since the beginning of the year. I am constitutionally required to balance the budget. Our state cannot deficit spend the way the Federal Government can. Just to manage this crisis, difficult decisions had to be made.”

The governor began his Wednesday press conference with remarks about the budget, detailing some of the cuts that have been made. He noted it’s taken about two months to decide on what would be best to cut in the first phase.

He also asked the Wyoming school districts to make voluntary 10% budget cuts, although he noted it would make for difficult decisions.

The Wyoming Department of Health, with the state’s largest budget, will see a 9% cut totaling approximately $90 million.

WDH programs facing cuts and elimination include those that serve senior citizens, disabled individuals and those with very low incomes, Gordon said.

Among the cuts planned are the phased elimination of the Wyoming Home Services program, an Aging Division program which provides services to individuals who are at risk of premature institutionalization; the elimination of some immunization funding for children; and a reduction in funding for early childhood developmental and educational programs. 

UW and the state’s community colleges had their budgets cut by 10% as well.

These cuts will mean reduced higher education options for Wyoming students, Gordon said. One program eliminated was Wyoming Works, an initiative the governor supported to help prepare adult students to enter the workforce. 

The Department of Family Services is eliminating vacant positions in the state office and field offices across the state, including at the Boys School in Worland and the Girls School in Sheridan.

Additionally, this means fewer people will be able to work on foster care and child protection Gordon said.

DFS cuts also mean the defunding of the Community Juvenile Services Boards, county-based diversion programs to prevent juvenile incarceration, and the burial program, which pays up to $500 to funeral homes for burial expenses for the indigent. 

The Department of Corrections will also see significant cuts to programs that keep the public safe. Parole agents will now be required to supervise additional offenders, and programs that help inmates re-enter Wyoming communities and not reoffend will see reductions in funding. 

The Department of Health, Corrections, Family Services, the University of Wyoming and the community colleges make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget. 

The governor is considering options for addressing the remaining $500 million shortfall.

State agencies have already developed proposals on further cuts to services, and the governor is working with legislators on other options, all of which require legislative action. 

On top of these cuts, Gordon has put furloughs in place for higher paid state employees and is consolidating human resources across the state government. 

“None of the cuts are easy, nor are they designed to highlight critical programs for political effect,” Gordon said. “These are the types of cuts we will continue to have to make to get our budget in balance. These hurt, and what comes next hurts more. I recognize the impact these cuts will have on Wyoming families and I am truly saddened that we had to make them.”

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UW Survey: Gordon’s Approval Rating For Coronavirus Handling Better Than Trump’s

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Wyoming has higher approval ratings than those of President Donald Trump, Congress or local officials among those questioned for a University of Wyoming survey.

The survey of 503 Wyoming residents by the university’s Survey and Analysis Center found that 19.1% of those questioned on Aug. 10 strongly approved of the way Gordon has handled the pandemic, while 49.9% somewhat approve of the job he has done.

That means Gordon has an approval rating of 69% compared to Trump’s approval rating of 51.8%. 

Slightly more people gave Trump a “strongly approve” rating than gave Gordon the same rating — 22% — but the number of people who “somewhat approve” of his job — 29.8% — was below Gordon’s numbers.

But the number who strongly or somewhat disapprove of Trump’s performance was 45% — compared to Gordon’s 28.5%.

The actions of local governments and health officials were “strongly approved” by 15.6% of those questioned for the survey, while 50.1% said they “somewhat approve” of local handling of the pandemic.

Only 2% of those questioned “strongly approve” of the job Congress is doing and only 15.5% “somewhat approve.”

However, more than 75% of those questioned either somewhat or strongly disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The survey is the latest conducted by the center focusing on public opinions on issues related to the coronavirus. The people surveyed are randomly selected from the center’s “WyoSpeaks” panel, a group of people who have agreed to be surveyed on a regular basis.

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Occidental Petroleum Skips Wyoming, Sells Land To Orion Mine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Occidental Petroleum ended weeks of anticipation Wednesday when the company announced that it would sell land grant assets in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to Orion Mine Finance.

The transaction will amount to approximately $1.33 billion and is expected to close in the fourth quarter this year.

The purchase includes 4.5 million mineral acres and 1 million surface acres. In this transaction, Orion is acquiring mineral rights to the world’s largest known trona deposit.

Trona is a mineral used to make soda ash, the principal ingredient in baking soda, global glass manufacturing, pollution control systems, as well as other critical chemical applications.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced last week that its bid for the Occidental land was on hold, as the company was in negotiations with another bidder whose name wasn’t announced at the time.

The governor and other members of the State Loan and Investment Board planned to use Wyoming’s Permanent Mineral Trust Funds for the purchase.

Gordon announced in a release Wednesday that he was disappointed about the outcome of the sale.

“I am disappointed that Wyoming was not the ultimate buyer of the Union Pacific Land Grant lands and minerals,” he said in a statement. “We worked hard to prepare a responsible, good faith bid, which we believe would have augmented Wyoming’s investment returns, bringing in more revenue to keep taxes in Wyoming low.

“Had Wyoming’s bid been accepted, the rate of return was expected to be in the range of 8% to 12%, depending on the assets and how quickly the economy recovers. This predicted rate of return is currently better than our current average rate of return.”

The purchase was expected to provide benefits to Wyoming citizens by making it easier to manage public lands in southwestern Wyoming and providing more and better public access for recreation and hunting on the land. It was also seen as a way to give Wyoming more flexibility to manage the land for multiple uses, including grazing and the development traditional and non-traditional energy resources.

“We felt the purchase would have been a good investment at the bid we submitted,” state Treasurer Curt Meier said in the release. “However, we believe our existing investment opportunities will also serve the needs of the state and its constituents. Exceeding our target bid was a risk we were not willing to take.”

According to the Wednesday release, Occidental will retain all cash flow from the currently producing oil and gas properties on the land, which are primarily cost-free royalties.

“This transaction significantly advances the progress against our $2 billion plus divestiture target for 2020,” Occidental President and CEO Vicki Hollub in a company news release. “We will retain our core oil and gas assets in the Rockies, including the prolific DJ Basin in Colorado and the highly prospective Powder River Basin in Wyoming.”

The acquired properties will be held under Sweetwater Royalties, a new base metals and industrial minerals royalty company, which will be managed by Orion.

“Acquiring high-quality producing royalties is a core component of our investment strategy and we are thrilled to be partnering with Occidental in this transaction,” Oskar Lewnowski, chief investment officer of Orion, said in the release. “This transaction offers significant royalty cash flow from the trona mines and has strong potential for mineral development.” He added, “As a firm we recognize the importance of US mineral and energy production and are pleased to be able to offer our support to the existing world-class operators and their associated communities.”

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Nuclear Missiles To Be Replaced At Cheyenne Air Force Base, Gordon Applauds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne is one of three military bases where nuclear missiles will be replaced over the next decade, the United States Air Force announced Friday.

The Air Force plans to begin construction as early as 2023 at the base as it moves forward to replace the Minuteman III ICBMs with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, according to a news release from the Air Force’s Global Strike Command division. The Minuteman III missiles are more than 50 years old.

According to a release from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, the Cheyenne project is estimated to create 1,000 jobs and lead to more housing development.

“I am extremely excited about this announcement,” Gordon said in the release. “This is a multi-billion dollar project that will benefit the entire state’s economy, while fortifying the nation’s defense. I want to pass on our gratitude to all of the men and women who serve at F.E. Warren, across the Air Force and the entire military.”

Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana will be the second base to see missiles replaced and construction is slated to begin in 2026. Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota will be the third and construction there is expected to begin in 2029.

Construction start dates are pending the completion of environmental impact statements for each base in accordance with federal laws and policies.

Military construction is phased ahead of the actual deployment of the GBSD to allow time for initial checks, ensure facilities are ready for any unique mission equipment and support training and operational certification prior to the first sites obtaining operational status at each wing.

Using infrastructure at the three locations will allow both the Minuteman III and GBSD weapons systems to continue meeting all nuclear surety and safety standards throughout their operational lives, particularly during the transition period.

“Ensuring missile bases remain missile bases makes the most sense for the taxpayer and the mission,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in the news release. “The Minuteman III is 50 years old. It’s past time to upgrade the missile systems. Our goal is ensure our systems remain fully safe, secure and effective in the defense of our nation and allies.”

The GBSD program’s objective is to deliver a low technical risk, affordable, total system replacement, starting in the late 2020s, to improve the ICBM’s capabilities and provide more efficient operations, maintenance and security at lower lifecycle costs.

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Wyoming State Rules For Rent Assistance Relaxed

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The rules surrounding a state program designed to provide people with assistance in paying their rents or mortgages have been changed to allow more people to take part in the program, according to a state official.

Scott Hoversland, executive director of the Wyoming Community Development Authority, on Wendesday encouraged people who may have been denied assistance under the program earlier to re-apply.

“Please go back on and re-apply, you may be eligible,” he said during a news conference with Gov. Mark Gordon.

The program to provide rental and mortgage assistance was approved during the Legislature’s special session earlier this year.

While $15 million was made available to help those who may have lost their jobs or seen their income reduced because of the coronavirus, the WCDA has distributed only $422,000, Hoversland said.

As a result, Gordon has approved several changes to the rules for the program, such as reducing the required co-pay for those receiving assistance from 30% of their rent or mortgage to 10%, increasing the maximum monthly payment from $2,000 to $3,000 and removing a restriction that eligible recipients have liquid assets of less than $10,000.

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