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Governor Mark Gordon

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Announces He Will Seek Second Term

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will seek a second term as Wyoming’s chief executive, he announced in Buffalo on Monday.

Gordon, speaking to a crowd of supporters in his hometown, said while he has been able to accomplish much during his first term in office, there is more to do.

“Energy ups and downs and the effects of COVID have been tough on Wyoming” he said in a video announcing his re-election bid. “But we’re going to be OK. We always are when we stick together.”

During his comments in Buffalo, Gordon pointed out Wyoming was one of the states to impose few restrictions on its residents during the coronavirus pandemic and kept students in school for more days than any state in the nation.

“Wyoming and the world have been through a tough stretch these past two years, but we focused on saving both lives and livelihoods,” he said.

Gordon, a former state treasurer, was elected to his first term in the governor’s office in 2018, defeating Democrat Mary Throne by a vote of 136,412 to 55,965. 

The majority of Gordon’s first term was marked by his efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and significant cuts in the state’s income due to slumps in the oil and natural gas industry.

In the course of the pandemic, Gordon consistently resisted calls to issue “stay-at-home” orders, instead issuing orders that closed schools and some businesses and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people.

Gordon repeatedly said he had faith that the common sense actions of Wyoming residents would make a “stay-at-home” order unnecessary.

“We are not trying to shut down Wyoming,” he said during a news conference in March 2020. “But your voluntary action and discipline will make the difference on whether we can slow the spread of COVID-19. I want to emphasize the orders we put in place are only effective if you take them seriously.”

Under Gordon, the state joined several others in challenging the proposal by the administration of President Joe Biden to require coronavirus vaccinations among health care workers and federal employees.

Gordon did require Wyoming residents to use facemasks beginning in December 2020, a decision that generated protest rallies and confrontations at the state Capitol. The mandate was lifted about three months later.

Gordon was also faced with the need to cut the state’s spending by more than $600 million as a slump in the state’s oil and naturals industries, paired with losses of revenue caused by the coronavirus, sent state revenues plummeting.

The state also challenged the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail oil and natural gas production on federal land filing a lawsuit in federal court.

Two others have announced their intention to run for the governor’s office, veterinarian and frequent candidate Rex Rammell and Cheyenne truck driver Aaron Nab.

Gordon: Government Should Be Limited With As Few Regulations As Possible

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By Gov. Mark Gordon, guest columnist

Wyoming has always been about small government and limited regulations.  These are core values to me. I remember well my father working to protect Wyoming’s Right to Work laws.  Our family eagerly supported Malcolm Wallop’s successful Senate bid in 1976.  He was unshakeable in his conservatism and fought constantly against government overreach. In fact, one of the most memorable political ads of all time was Malcolm taking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to task for ridiculous regulations. It featured a puzzled cowboy preparing to head out on the range, and having to strap a portable toilet to a pack horse because of OSHA’s overregulation.  It was a great ad that highlighted wrongheaded regulations crafted in DC that lack awareness of what makes sense on the ground.

Big government is a cancer.  As a conservative Republican I have, and always will support the rights of private individuals and their rights as business owners to operate their enterprise as they see fit. We need fewer regulations, not more.  I oppose growing government interference.

As I write this, OSHA is preparing new rules that purport to shape how businesses must operate across the country. In this instance, it is a mandate that employers require that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine. And there are other hair-brained ideas on the way, including those that would force health care facilities to require vaccinations in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.  Holding our seniors and Medicaid recipients hostage is just plain wrong. 

This federal overreach is plainly unacceptable.  Let me be clear: Wyoming will use every means at our disposal to thwart these efforts to erode our rights. I have directed Wyoming’s Attorney General to work with other states to prepare for litigation once the vaccine mandate regulations are released. 

From the outset of this Biden threat, Legislative leadership and I have been aligned in our steadfast opposition to federal overreach.  Rest assured, we have heard similar sentiments from all corners of the state.  Together, we are working hard on behalf of Wyoming.  However, I will not support state over-reach into our private and business lives.

As chief executive of Wyoming, I’m acutely aware of the limits imposed on my office by our Constitution and the statutes passed by our Legislature.  Wyoming’s statutes do not provide the Governor with unlimited power.  For example, Wyoming’s brand of Executive Orders (EOs) do not give the Governor the same tools that the Texas Legislature has given their Governor. Because Wyoming’s Governor does not have statutory authority to enforce an EO similar to Texas’ Governor, I have not issued one. Frankly, I am not disappointed because I believe in my core that Wyomingites don’t want a supreme executive in the first place. Government must be held in check.

The Wyoming Legislature has the authority to call itself into session when they are so inclined.  Their process is not easy, and it isn’t meant to be.  Wyoming prides herself on a citizen legislature made up of men and women with jobs, businesses, and obligations that are not wholly political in nature.  We are blessed that we do not have a “political class” as found in New York, California, or Illinois.  Wyoming has avoided that pitfall by limiting the days that our Legislature can be in session, thereby assuring that our legislators continue their other work, and concentrate on politics as a service. 

The Legislature is following its process.  I look forward to continuing to work with them to see that we protect the rights of Wyoming individuals and businesses. It is, and always has been, a delicate balance.

Ultimately, I remain committed to conservative Republican principles: minimal government closest to the people, individual liberty, and the freedom to operate your business unconstrained from government mandates. I will always stand for the Constitution and the rule of law.  I was proud when former President Donald Trump recognized Wyoming’s limited regulations when I met with him at the White House in 2019. I continue to be proud of our state’s commitment to keep out of the business of our citizens and their businesses.

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Gordon Blasts Biden’s Vaccine Mandate: “This Has No Place in America”

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon on Thursday blasted President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate as un-American and has asked his attorney general to fight it.

“I have asked the Attorney General to stand prepared to take all actions to oppose this administration’s unconstitutional overreach of executive power. It has no place in America. Not now, and not ever,” Gordon said in a statement.

On Thursday, President Biden announced his administration was enacting rules that would mandate all employers with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly for the virus.

The mandate could affect as many as 100 million Americans.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said in the press conference. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” he said.

Gordon said Thursday’s announcement was an example of “big government overreach” and questioned the constitutionality of the rules.

“Our Constitution was written and fought for to protect our liberties as American citizens,” he said.  “This administration’s latest pronouncement demonstrates its complete disregard for the rule of law and freedoms individuals and private companies enjoy under our Constitution. In Wyoming, we believe that government must be held in check.”

State Rep. Landon Brown told Cowboy State Daily that he concurs with Gov. Gordon’s sentiments and said he encouraged the the governor’s office to take “any and all action to protect Wyoming’s businesses’ rights.”

“This federal government overreach is inexcusable and we should not stand for it,” Brown said. “Government should not be dictating business practices like this.”

Carbon County Republican Party chair Joey Correnti told Cowboy State Daily that although he hasn’t read Biden’s vaccine “action plan” yet, he was completely opposed to “anything that has mandate in the title.”

“The problem with the way Biden is doing things is that it’s an emotion and an intention with a title, none of it is quantified on paper,” he said, comparing it to the administration’s controversial “30 by 30” environmental plan.

“The Biden administration on almost every policy has been vague or not totally forthcoming on the full content on any of their emotional plans which are destroying America,” he said.

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Gordon Reiterates No Mask Mandate; Local Control Best Option

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By Ellen Fike and Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

Local government officials are the best leaders when it comes to making decisions about the coronavirus in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon told a group in Jackson on Tuesday.

Gordon appeared at the Teton County Library on Tuesday as a part of the library’s Teton County Centennial series, where he started his comments by addressing the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the state had more than 3,400 active cases and 195 people hospitalized for treatment.

However, Gordon has steadfastly refused to implement a second statewide mandate for the use of facemasks and he told his Jackson audience Tuesday he feels it is better to let local governments, rather than his administration, make decisions regarding how their communities should handle the the pandemic.

“We don’t believe that mandates from on high work,” he said. “We do think local control, local government is where the nexus lies. Those are locally-elected people, they’re your communities. They can appreciate the circumstances at a local level in a way that we find from on top can’t happen.”

He did note that his office will work to make sure the state’s communities have adequate supplies of vaccines, personal protective equipment and COVID tests.

Currently, only Teton County has implemented a countywide mask mandate, which came late last week after a rise in cases both in the county and state.

The mandate for Jackson was extended until December by the Jackson Town Council in a special meeting Monday. The Teton County Board of Commissioners will meet later this week to discuss extending the life of the mandate in the county outside of Jackson.

Gordon said that while he respected Wyoming residents’ freedom to choose, he also said residents know what they need to do to slow the spread of the virus — wash their hands, wear facemasks and practice social distancing.

“In this environment, I think it is extremely important that we recognize we are a community and what we do together can be very successful in defeating the virus,” he said.

Gordon also addressed the record tourism year being seen in northwestern Wyoming, saying the state is looking at ways to control visitation without imposing a permitting system to limit the number of visitors in one area.

“I think that there are some ways that we can look at how we can manage the number of visitors that come through Jackson, come through our parks, and do that without imposing some sort of permitting system,” he said. “Do that in a way that doesn’t hamper the freedom of people wanting to come visit.”

If visitors can be convinced to see areas other than Jackson and Yellowstone National Park, it might ease the burden on those areas, Gordon said.

“So if people come and they want to see the oldest national park, on their way if they could stop and see, perhaps a hot springs, perhaps some of the wonderful soft terrain that we see elsewhere in the state,” he said. “We need to encourage that. We need to be able to make sure that visitor see how friendly people in Wyoming are and how great our communities are.”

The governor also touched on the drought that has gripped the West this year, noting that for the first time ever, water has been pulled from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to supply downstream users on the Colorado River system.

“For the first time, Flaming Gorge level will diminish this year and probably will diminish more next year if we don’t have recharge of snow, rain, etc.,” he said.

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Gordon Evaluating U.S. – Mexico Border Situation For Ways To Help

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is evaluating the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas before responding to a request from the governors of Texas and Arizona for help, he said Thursday.

Gordon told Cowboy State Daily that while it is important to keep America’s southern border secure, he has not determined how to answer the request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Greg Ducey for help at the border.

“Together with the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, I am currently evaluating the specifics of the request to see what resources we can provide to assist these border states,” he said. “It is absolutely essential that our nation’s borders are secure.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported earlier this week that more than 1 million undocumented immigrants have been arrested since October after crossing the Mexico border into the United States

Abbott is pushing for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has even declared states of emergency for various counties in the southern part of the state. Abbott and Ducey have called on their fellow governors to send help to secure the border.

In response to the request, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this week ordered 100 National Guard soldiers be sent to the border in Texas to help with the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

A billionaire Republican donor from Tennessee actually paid $1 million to offset the costs of the South Dakota National Guard going to Texas, according to an article from the Associated Press.

Gordon said the work by Abbott and Ducey was necessary because of the failure of the federal government to take necessary action.

“Our country is threatened any time we cannot secure our borders, and I applaud these two governors for taking action in the absence of federal leadership on this issue,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily. “I, along with other Governors, are working to aid our colleagues as best we can. It is clear that the Biden administration is not addressing this problem with the level of seriousness it requires.”

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Gordon Will Work With Legislature To Consider Juneteenth As Formal State Holiday

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

In response to the new federal “Juneteenth” holiday which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said he will work with the state legislature to examine making it a formal state holiday as well.

Gordon signed a proclamation recognizing the significance of the new holiday noting that while most federal employees will get the day off of work on Friday, state workers will be at work as normal as only the state Legislature can set state holidays.

The holiday recognizes the emancipation of Blacks who had previously been held as slaves.

Wyoming has recognized Juneteenth since 2003 and has established it as a holiday on the third Saturday of June.

“Freedom is always a cause for celebration and this is a momentous day in our nation’s history. I encourage people to observe this commemoration of the full enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which embodies the values of all Americans,” Gov. Gordon said.

The legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate and by a 415 – 14 vote in the House.

It’s been 35 years since the last federal holiday was created. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated federally in 1986.

There are now 10 federal holidays in the U.S.

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Gordon Relaunching Program To Encourage Oil, Gas Projects In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is dedicating up to $12 million in federal CARES Act funds to re-launch the Energy Rebound Program, which is designed to get more people working in the energy industry.

In 2020, the program provided capital for specified oil and gas projects, including drilled but uncompleted ventures, the replacement of equipment to lengthen the life of wells and the reclamation of oil and gas wells through the plugging and abandonment process.

“The Energy Rebound Program successfully provided opportunities for oil and gas industry employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased last year,” Gordon said. “This program will continue to provide economic benefits to this important industry, their workforce and the entire state of Wyoming.”

Wyoming’s oil and gas industry is lagging due to external market factors, according to the governor’s office.

Currently, there are nine drilling rigs operating in Wyoming, down from more than 30 running in February 2020.

The program again target projects that bring immediate economic benefits, including job growth and revenue, along with the environmental benefits of plugging and reclaiming oil and gas wells that are no longer in use or near the end of their useful life.

“As energy demand continues to increase, private-land production states have seen a quicker rebound, one that has yet to reach Wyoming’s federally-owned resources. Given the success of the inaugural Energy Rebound Program, a jobs program at its core, Gov. Gordon’s decision to initiate a second round makes perfect sense,” said Pete Obermueller, President of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “In 2020, despite a quick turnaround over the holidays, the men and women of the oil and gas industry stepped up, utilizing more than 100 service companies from 14 Wyoming towns to complete their work, supporting thousands of local jobs and kickstarting more than $150 million in new production.”

Last year, the oil and gas industry had just six weeks to identify and complete projects. This time, the projects will need to be completed by the end of the year.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will administer the program.

Oil and gas operators will need to certify the number of jobs created for Wyoming workers. To qualify as a Wyoming worker, the worker must be a resident of Wyoming at the time of the application.

“We look forward to supporting the governor’s Energy Rebound Program by administering this additional funding. The program has proven to be successful in supporting projects and employment within the oil and gas industry,” stated WOGCC Deputy Supervisor Tom Kropatsch. “Our evaluation of the applications and post program reporting to ensure compliance with program rules will be essential in making this version of the Energy Rebound Program as successful as the first.”

The WOGCC will accept applications from June 15 through June 25.

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Gov Gordon Says No to Vaccination Passports

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Gov Mark Gordon on Friday said Wyoming will not be participating in any vaccination passport program no matter what the federal government says.

“Wyoming has no plans to require vaccine passports or require participation in a vaccine passport program,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily.

“While the governor encourages residents to get vaccinated, COVID-19 vaccinations are entirely voluntary in the state of Wyoming,” Pearlman said, noting that there hasn’t been any indication the federal government is pursuing such an idea.

Speculation about a possible federal vaccination passport surfaced last week when the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration would be developing standards for how Americans can show proof that they’ve been vaccinated.

A White House advisor later clarified that there would not be a government-issued vaccine credential nor would the government be storing vaccination information in a database.

If there is some sort of vaccination passport, it would come from the private sector, said Andy Slavitt, acting director for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We view this as something the private sector is doing and will do,” he said. “What’s important to us, and we’re leading an interagency process right now to go through these details, are that some important criteria be met with these credentials.”

The news of any type of vaccination credential has not set well with many Republican governors.

Leading the way is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who said any type of vaccination passport — whether issued by the government or the private sector — is not ok. He issued an executive order to that effect on Friday.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said.

Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska said the idea of any type of medical passport “violates two central tenets of the American system: freedom of movement and health care privacy.”

The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance on Friday stating that Americans who are vaccinated can travel again without worrying about getting tested or going into quarantine.

“The C.D.C.’s new travel guidance is a major step in the right direction that is supported by the science and will take the brakes off the industry that has been hardest hit by the fallout of Covid by far,” Roger Dow, the chief executive of U.S. Travel, an industry group, said in a statement. “As travel comes back, U.S. jobs come back.”

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Gordon Joins Bipartisan Group Of Governors In Support Of Carbon Capture Legislation

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By The Center Square For Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon joined other governors in writing a letter of support to Congress on the Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions (SCALE) Act.

The act, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, promotes the buildout of necessary infrastructure to transport carbon dioxide from its source to manufacturers or be safely stored underground.

The letter is co-signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

The goal of the legislation is “to develop an interconnected CO2 transport and storage infrastructure to help the U.S. reach net-zero emissions and meet mid century climate goals,” according to a news release from Gordon’s office.

“We urge Congress to prioritize the inclusion of this critical legislation in any broader infrastructure package, given its essential role in helping to achieve net-zero emissions economywide,” the letter reads. “As a group of collective states with a shared interest, we stand ready to work with you to implement policies that scale up the regional and national CO2 transport infrastructure to achieve net-zero emissions goals.”

In a statement, Gordon said, “Wyoming has always been a leader in Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS) and we are committed to making Wyoming the next state to have a CCUS facility. I recently set the goal for Wyoming to not only be carbon neutral, but actually carbon negative while continuing to use fossil fuels.”

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UW, Colleges Launch Collaborative Effort To Improve Wyoming’s Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges are launching a collaborative effort to better prepare Wyoming students for the state’s evolving economy and encourage entrepreneurship, officials announced Monday.

Gov. Mark Gordon, in a news conference with UW President Ed Seidel and presidents from the state’s community colleges, announced the launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a joint effort by all the schools to focus more on Wyoming’s economic needs.

“The economic challenges Wyoming is facing are going to require us to develop and deploy innovative solutions,” Gordon said. “It is critical to have this coordinated effort from our state’s institutions of higher education.”

Under the WIN program, community colleges and UW will work to align courses to prepare students for industries that will need skilled workers in the future, such as tourism, advanced manufacturing and digital technology, Gordon said.

He added by working together, the schools will also help students become entrepreneurs and help make Wyoming more attractive to new businesses by making sure they have access to a skilled workforce.

“Our goal is a unified effort that will help launch this economic development as well as strengthen our economy and help our workers succeed here in Wyoming,” Gordon said.

The initiative will also look at ways to increase the availability of higher education to students who might not be otherwise able to access it, perhaps through digital means, he said.

The effort will require the UW and community colleges to develop closer relationships with private industry, Seidel said, both to determine what skills employers need and to seek financial support for the effort.

Seidel and the presidents of the community college have already formed a working group which will meet regularly to determine how to move forward with items such as making educational programs align and making sure community college students have access to the university.

Darren Divine, president of Casper College, pointed out the university and community colleges are already working along those lines, such as with the development of a bachelor’s degree in applied science and the bachelor’s of science in nursing.

In addition, a program announced Monday will allow community college students to know exactly how their college credits will apply should they attend the UW, Divine said.

“The community colleges and the university are very cohesive and aligned more now than ever before,” he said. “This new effort will enhance Wyoming’s ability to meet the challenges created by our current economic environment.”

There will be a cost connected to the effort, Gordon said, but he said his direction to the presidents was to look at what could be done and then perhaps look to sources other than the state for at least part of the funding.

“Then comes the part of how do we raise the funds,” he said. “We’ve got to reach out to the private sector. That’s something that Wyoming is going to have to do more of. We can’t depend entirely on the (legislative” block grant, on what the Legislature does.

“What is important here is a new direction in a way to collaborate among our institutions, to work from the ground up,” he said. “As money comes its direction, as it proves its worth, then more investment will result in more success.”

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Gordon On Pandemic: “Our State Has Been Resilient”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s resiliency through the coronavirus pandemic has allowed the state to fare better than most, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

During his address to the Legislature, Gordon praised Wyoming’s willingness to do what was needed to reduce the impact of the virus as much as possible.

“We undertook actions to protect public health,” he said in his remarks. “But unlike other states, we have been able to maintain our way of life and liberty and have striven to keep businesses open and kids in schools.”

Gordon added that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” of the pandemic, since two coronavirus vaccines have been introduced and are already being distributed across the state and country.

However, he still grieved for the 489 people who have died in Wyoming due to complications from the virus, as well as the 190 people who have died by suicide in the state during the pandemic.

The governor applauded Wyoming’s response to the pandemic from the local level to the federal.

He pointed out that despite the pandemic, tourism in Wyoming still was prosperous, with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks both seeing record-breaking numbers throughout the late summer and fall months.

“I will add that hunting and fishing in Wyoming remained at near record levels this year and our state parks never had more visitors,” Gordon said.

He thanked Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, for helping the state secure $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding, which has almost completely been distributed throughout communities across Wyoming.

“This [money] was a tremendous help in keeping our state and citizens afloat during this pandemic,” he said.

Gordon also touted Wyoming’s low unemployment rate of 5.1% as one of the lowest in the nation.

He added that he would introduce “several policy initiatives” over the next few weeks to help Wyoming stay on its positive path.

“These will make sure we live within our means, simplify our budgeting process, revitalize our education, protect our opportunity and energize our economy,” he said.

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Gordon Lifts Restrictive Hours For Wyoming Restaurants and Bars

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By Jimmy Orr, Executive Editor

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office on Saturday announced that Wyoming restaurants and bars can return to normal hours effective on on January 9.

The office attributed the change in public health orders to declining hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 virus.

“Thank you to the people of Wyoming who recognized the strain on their hospitals and health care workers and acted accordingly,” Gordon said in a release. 

The governor also thanked business owners who abided by the orders adopted in December when coronavirus cases were spiraling upward in the state.

“These have not been easy times for anyone,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet, but continued personal safety measures while the vaccine is being distributed will enable our state’s schools and businesses to continue to remain open.”

On December 30, Wyoming hospitals were reporting 113 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, down from a peak of 247 on November 30. However, the state reported 223 COVID-19 deaths in December, the highest number since the pandemic began in March. Wyoming has also begun distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, utilizing a phased approach due to limited initial vaccine availability.

The updated health orders, along with additional information on Wyoming’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, can be found on Wyoming’s COVID-19 website.

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Jimmy Orr is a Wyoming native who was on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor as the Managing Editor, Digital. Orr served as a spokesman for the White House and directed digital strategy for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Orr co-founded Cowboy State Daily in January, 2019.

Gordon to Announce COVID Relief Program For Bars, Restaurants Which Have to Close at 10pm

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Health are working together to quickly roll out a relief program for businesses that now have reduced hours of operation due to the newest health orders passed this week.

The program will use federal CARES Act dollars to reimburse restaurants and bars for income lost during the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the times they are required to be closed.

“I want to thank everyone for joining together to protect their communities and also to support local businesses,” Gordon said. “We hope to have final details available this week and to start taking applications for relief funding for business owners who are helping to save lives by reducing their hours.”

Gordon has often spoken of the importance of keeping businesses open, and with hours reduced for the next several weeks, he said the support provided by the assistance program is is critical.

The Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming State Liquor Association are helping to notify their members about the opportunity.

With Congress still debating an emergency stimulus package, the timing of the program will depend on availability of relief funding. Additional federal stimulus funds or an extension of the Dec. 30 CARES Act deadline could allow additional dollars to be directed towards this program.

“I have been working with legislative leaders so we can quickly change state laws if Congress does act and provides new relief to the states. I appreciate their efforts to prepare and be ready to act quickly,” Gordon said.

The Wyoming Business Council plans to release additional information about the program later this week. The WLRA and WSLA will also be distributing this information to their members as soon as it becomes available.

“We appreciate the Governor’s efforts to help offset the financial impacts some of our members will experience, and we thank him for working with industry on keeping our businesses and employees whole,” Mike Moser, Executive Director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said.

“This relief program is welcome news and an opportunity for the Wyoming hospitality industry to address lost revenues,” Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said.  

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‘Threatened’ Status For Tree Concerning, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is expressing concern about a federal proposal to list a tree in Wyoming as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

While the listing of the whitebark pine would not impose any restrictions on activities on private property in Wyoming, the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek the “threatened” status for the tree is worrisome, Gordon said in a news release Wednesday.

“Any listing under the ESA is concerning,” he said. “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for listing and will remain committed to working with our federal partners to approach species conversation in a pragmatic manner.”

The whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree, is threatened by a fungal disease called white pine blister rust. The Fish and Wildlife Service did not find that any human activities are a threat to the tree.

The proposed “threatened” listing would not restrict activities such as grazing and logging and does not propose any critical habitat designations, Gordon said.

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Gordon Providing Resources For Wyoming Hospitals Due To COVID Surge

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is providing additional support to hospitals across Wyoming in response to skyrocketing coronavirus cases all over the state.

The state will receive resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Wyoming National Guard and through traveling medical staff contracted using CARES Act funds he directed to the Wyoming Hospital Association.

“I want to thank President Trump and his administration for providing much-needed resources to Wyoming to deal with the serious strain COVID-19 has put on our healthcare system,” Gordon said. “We have had to call upon resources from outside the state to help deal with this surge in hospitalizations. Many thanks to the National Guard for answering our call to help in our hospitals. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to our frontline healthcare workers. Help is on the way.”

Hospitalizations are at record levels and have been increasing rapidly over the last several weeks.

There are also several Wyoming hospitals that have expanded capacity to meet the influx of coronavirus patients. Right now several hospitals are also at capacity for ICU beds.

Two Health and Medical Task Force (HMTF) teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System will deploy to Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to help medical providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each 15-member team includes physicians and nurses who will support hospitals in Campbell and Laramie counties for two weeks. The communities were selected based on where the immediate need was greatest.

The Wyoming National Guard will also be providing support to hospitals by augmenting hospital staff. Guard members will be assisting with activities such as delivering meals and other activities to free up medical staff.

There will be 10 guard members assigned to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne who will be deployed for 30 days unless extended upon request.

Assistance with non-medical tasks helps the hospitals focus their medical resources on tasks where they can have the most impact.

“Our Guardsmen are poised to assist when the state is in a time of increased need,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Porter, adjutant general for the Wyoming National Guard. “Our soldiers and airmen are always ready to aid our neighbors and affected communities and partner with other agencies.”

Traveling medical staff has also begun to arrive in Wyoming to assist with the state’s coronavirus response.

Gordon has allocated $10 million in CARES Act funding to the Wyoming Hospital Association to coordinate this previously announced effort. As many as 50 additional personnel are expected to be deployed throughout the state by the end of the week to provide staffing relief and ease the burden on hospital resources.

“This much-needed assistance came together with the coordination of several agencies,” Lynn Budd, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director said. “The result is a direct validation of the teamwork that is typical of Wyoming.”

As a part of the WDH efforts to support Wyoming hospital capacity, the department has been in contact on an ongoing basis with Wyoming hospitals to discuss hospital capacity and surge plans.

“Consistently we have been informed by hospitals that availability of medical personnel, specifically nurses, is their largest concern,” said Dirk Dijkstal, Health Readiness and Response Section chief with WDH.

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Gordon Suggests $500 Million In Budget Cuts In New Proposal

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon released his supplemental budget proposal on Monday, which includes additional cuts on top of the 10% he implemented in July.

This proposed budget reflects Gordon’s commitment to the Wyoming people that the state must live within its means in the face of declining revenues. 

Gordon’s proposed budget would cut state spending by more than $500 million and fulfills the constitutional requirement to present a balanced budget.

This proposed budget reflects total cuts to state agencies averaging 15%, but Gordon said he strived to preserve the health, safety and welfare of Wyoming citizens. 

“Our circumstances require that we make further reductions in order to meet our Constitutional obligation to balance Wyoming’s budget. These cuts to state agencies will result in the elimination of  both private and public sector jobs,” Gordon said in a release. “In approaching this supplemental budget, I have focused first on what is constitutionally mandated, thereby protecting the health, wellbeing and liberties of all Wyoming citizens.

“These are difficult cuts to make and they will affect people and communities,” he continued. “I regret that. While there were some efficiencies gained, I want to thank all our agencies for their hard work and helpful recommendations in such difficult times.”

Gordon is also proposing to simplify the state’s budget structure, which currently includes a large number of accounts where money is set aside for specific purposes. His proposal is for “One Checking Account, One Savings Account.”

“This would make the state’s budgeting process more transparent, reflecting my pledge for fiscal transparency,” Gordon said.

After July’s budget cuts, Gordon took a more strategic approach to his next round of reductions, achieving a balanced budget with some agencies absorbing deeper cuts than others.

“It is a fact that we cannot reduce our spending without looking at our largest agencies,” Gordon said. “The Department of Health, the University of Wyoming, the community colleges, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Family Services make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget.”

Among the Governor’s total proposed cuts is $135 million to the Wyoming Department of Health. The WDH cuts will impact programs including health care coverage for disabled and low-income residents, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and developmental preschools. 

“My proposed cuts to the Department of Health followed the agency’s recommendations and will minimize the negative impacts on the citizens of Wyoming. However, it is a harsh reality that at this point every cut will hurt,” Gordon said.

The $700 million general fund budget of the University of Wyoming and the community colleges makes up almost a quarter of the total general fund budget.

Last week, the UW board of trustees approved a $42 million reduction plan presented by UW president Ed Seidel.

To balance the budget and prepare for future revenue shortfalls, Gordon is proposing nearly 15% reductions to higher education.

Some agencies, including the Governor’s Office, will experience nearly 20% cuts if the Legislature approves this proposed budget. 

Gordon did caution that after these budget reductions there remains a nearly $300 million deficit still as of Monday, resulting from the cost of K-12 education.

This overrun is covered with dollars from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” an account the Legislature established. However, Gordon noted that if the shortfall is not addressed, this deficit could grow to as much as $600 million in two years.

This is one area where only the Legislature can act.

“A well-funded educational system is a source of pride and economic opportunity for our state. It is essential for our families and our children just as low taxes are,” Gordon wrote in his budget message. “Our circumstances require that we evaluate all school spending and consider its importance to our state’s future. These are dollars that go into local economies too.  I appreciate the Legislature’s Recalibration Committee’s hard work on this topic and look forward to their proposals.”

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Gordon, Health Officials Upping Contact Tracing, Expanding COVID Testing After Cases Surge

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With an average of more than 200 new coronavirus cases being reported daily in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health are stepping up the state’s COVID-19 testing at nursing homes and boosting its contact tracing efforts.

Wyoming has averaged more than 200 new cases of the coronavirus per day over the past 14 days, and 109 Wyomingites with the virus were hospitalized around the state as of Thursday.

“This surge in cases in our communities is directly impacting Wyoming’s healthcare system, our businesses and industries, and straining our healthcare workforce,” Gordon said. “This is the time to recognize that our actions impact others, their lives and livelihoods. All of us have a role to play in ensuring that our hospitals can continue to care for all patients, not just those suffering from COVID-19.”

To protect vulnerable citizens, the state will continue to provide enhanced testing at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including testing all residents and staff at facilities where COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters have been detected.

At other facilities that are not experiencing outbreaks, the state will continue its surveillance testing program, where a percentage of residents are tested regularly. 

WDH is also supplementing its contact tracing efforts by bringing on a Wyoming-based company, Waller Hall Research, to provide assistance.

The Wyoming National Guard will step down next week from its mission of helping with contact tracing. Contact tracing is one of the state’s most effective strategies in isolating the virus and preventing its spread Gordon said.

“I want to thank our citizen soldiers for being ready and willing to serve their communities when counties requested assistance with this vital service,” Gordon said. 

The state is supporting health facilities, correctional facilities, counties and other entities through testing available at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory and through the 175,000 tests Wyoming purchased with CARES Act funds.

A free, at-home saliva testing program remains available to residents, and WDH is launching a program to support businesses and employers across the state with free testing as well.

Wyoming’s school surveillance testing program is also underway, with 27 districts currently participating. 

Gordon said the state is also exploring a program that would reward businesses that voluntarily make changes to their operations to enhance the safety of employees, customers, and the general public. 

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Gordon on Covid-19: When We Act Irresponsibly, “Our Patriotism Has Gone Awry”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon had strong words for the people in Wyoming during a Wednesday news conference, telling those questioning precautionary measures — such as wearing masks — designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, that acting irresponsibly isn’t helping anyone.

The governor gave an example of how easily the virus is spread stating that a friend of his recently experienced a truck breaking down and called for help.

Someone, Gordon said, who had just tested positive for the coronavirus and wasn’t wearing a mask, came to assist him. This passed on the virus to Gordon’s friend, making him very ill.

“That just tells me our country, our patriotism have gone awry,” Gordon said. “If you are a patriot, if you love this country, you will recognize this is an hour of need for our country and we must come together to help fight this terrible, terrible disease. We can do that … in a way that our children will respect and tell of for generations to come.”

Referring to a copy of U.S. Constitution, he said the document, along with the Wyoming Constitution, is what he lives by and further gives him a strong belief that Wyoming residents will rise up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I will say, we act irresponsibly, we put our liberties and our government in jeopardy,” he said. “This is something that every Wyoming citizen should take seriously.”

Gordon also noted during his conference that the virus was neither the flu nor the chickenpox, and certainly not a cold.

Cases are spiking significantly in long-term care facilities, Dr. Alexia Harrist said during the news conference. There are currently 23 lab-confirmed cases in five facilities across the state.

She did point to the lack of outbreaks in Wyoming’s schools, showing that using masks does make a difference when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus.

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Gordon: No Stricter Health Orders If Covid Count Remains Reasonable

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced that new state public health orders to be issued next week will contain a relaxation on some of the restrictions in place for the state’s restaurants.

The governor’s comments came during a news conference on Thursday, when he discussed the recent spike in coronavirus cases seen across the state, primarily in Albany, Natrona and Sheridan counties.

While Gordon said the trend was concerning, he added that he had expected a surge in cases due to people returning to school, partaking in extracurricular activities and gathering socially at work and in private settings.

The governor said he expected to see an ebb and flow in cases over the next few months, but that as long as the case counts stay within certain parameters, no stricter health orders will be issued.

He specified that schools and restaurants in particular aren’t seeing large outbreaks of cases due to diligent efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

As a result, he said he would expand restaurant indoor seating capacity when he issues the state’s next health orders on Sept. 30. The relaxed restrictions are the result of restaurants taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus and because of the quickly approaching cool temperatures that will make it impossible to eat outside, he said.

State public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said there have been about 100 cases of the virus reported in K-12 schools throughout the state over the last month. Quarantine for school staff, faculty and students is now not recommended in the case of an exposure when both the exposer and exposee are wearing face coverings.

School athletics have been a source of outbreaks, Harrist noted. However, no schools have had to close due to coronavirus outbreaks.

Harrist also touched on the upcoming flu season, urging viewers to get flu shots since the combination of the flu and the coronavirus (as well as the two on their own) could cause serious illness.

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Gordon: DC Mayor Put Wyo on Travel Advisory List Because She’s Afraid of Republicans

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday raised some questions about travel advisories issued by the mayor of Washington, D.C., against a number of states led by Republican governors that were in place when he visited Washington, D.C. this week.

In his coronavirus update, Gordon noted that the Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued travel advisories against 31 states, most of which, like Wyoming, are Republican-led.

The advisory requires anyone traveling from or returning to Washington, D.C., to self-quaratine for two weeks after participating in non-essential travel.

Other states on the list include South Dakota, Utah and Nebraska.

Gordon pointed out that many of the states on the list (including Wyoming and South Dakota) have relatively low coronavirus case counts compared to California or New York, both states led by Democratic governors which are not on the list even though both have significantly higher case and population counts.

“I was wondering [after seeing the list] if the virus the mayor was worried about was Republicanism and fiscal responsibility or if they were really talking about the [corona]virus,” Gordon joked.

The governor joined U.S. Sen. John Barrasso in the nation’s capital this week to call for updates to the federal Endangered Species Act.

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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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Gordon Extends Wyoming Health Orders For Fourth Time

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon extended Wyoming’s coronavirus public health orders for a fourth time Thursday, meaning they will remain in effect until at least Sept. 15.

The orders continue to place restrictions on the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings — 50% of a venue’s capacity up to 1,000 people, as long as long as social distancing and increased sanitization measures are in place.

Indoor gatherings in confined spaces also remain limited under the orders to 50 people if no coronavirus precautions are being taken and 250 people if social distancing and additional sanitization measures are observed.

The requirements for face mask use, social distancing and extra sanitization steps for restaurants, bars, gyms, performance spaces and personal care services remain unchanged, as does a requirement that students in schools wear face coverings in situations where 6 feet of separation can’t be maintained.

Over the last two weeks, Wyoming has averaged 35 new lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus per day, compared to an average of 27 cases per day for the period from July 30 to Aug. 12.

The Wyoming Department of Health and Gov. Mark Gordon continue to recommend the use of face coverings in public settings where it’s not possible or reasonable to stay physically apart.

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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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One-Third Of UW CARES Money To Go To Out-Of-State Students

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than half of the University of Wyoming’s student population applied for and will receive at least some of the CARES Act funding Gov. Mark Gordon made available earlier this month, spokesman Chad Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily this week.

Of the 6,256 grant applications received, 2,096 were from out state, most of them undergraduate students. This was 33% of the applications received.

Gordon announced earlier this month that full-time undergraduate and graduate level students, including both resident and non-resident students, will receive up to $3,250 for the fall semester to help cover non-tuition school costs.

To be eligible for the grant, students must be U.S. citizens and be financially impacted by the coronavirus.

Baldwin also provided numbers that showed the applications for admission to the University of Wyoming submitted in the two-week period between Aug. 10 and 24 doubled compared to the numbers submitted during the same period in in 2018 and 2019.

The university received applications from 265 students, all of whom were admitted, over the two-week period between the announcement of the grant program and the start of classes Monday. Just over a quarter of those applicants, 76, applied for the CARES grant, 70 of them residents and only six non-residents.

“As you can see, the response since announcing the CARES funding on Aug. 10 has been incredibly positive,” Baldwin said.

It should be noted that the money is prorated dependent on how many credit hours a student is taking at the university. If a student is enrolled full-time, he or she will receive the full grant.

Non-resident students were required to be enrolled in at least one face-to-face course for the semester to be eligible for the grant.

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Wyoming, USDA Sign Forest Improvement Agreement, Which Focuses On Fire Protection

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a new agreement Tuesday between the U.S. Forest Service and the state to promote forest management and respond to ecological challenges.

Under the “Shared Stewardship Agreement,” Wyoming and the USDA will work together on forest and grassland restoration across both federal and state lands, with a focus on protecting at-risk communities and watersheds from wildfire.

“I am excited to sign this agreement today with Secretary Perdue. It marks an increased opportunity for us to combine expertise and resources, better our national forests and grasslands, and serve all of the citizens of Wyoming,” Gordon said in a news release. “The importance of our national forest system lands, to our communities, for water, for businesses like logging and agriculture, and just for general enjoyment cannot be understated. I applaud the efforts to date and am genuinely excited to see what we can do together in the future.”

The agreement calls for federal and state agencies to take part in joint planning, the pooling of resources and continued investment in existing partnerships and programs that support collaborative work.

“This agreement strengthens the already strong partnership between the Forest Service and the State of Wyoming,” Perdue said in a news release. “Through Shared Stewardship, Wyoming and the Forest Service will work together to identify landscape-scale priorities and build capacity to improve forest conditions.”

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Gordon Vetoes Million-Acre Land Purchase Bill

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have laid out the process for evaluating the state’s possible purchase of 1 million acres of land in southern Wyoming was vetoed Friday by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon vetoed Senate File 138, one of several measures proposed during the Legislature’s recent budget session to allow the possible purchase of the land from Occidental Petroleum.

The bill would have called for the State Land and Investment Board, made up of the state’s top five elected officials, to study the possible sale and report back to the Legislature, which would decide how and whether to finance the purchase.

Gordon, in his veto letter, said the final version of the bill imposed too many requirements for reports by the executive branch to the Legislature.

“The end result is a vehicle so heavily laden with legislative baggage that the ability to conduct thorough and appropriate due diligence takes a back seat to mandated reports and recommendations,” he wrote.

As written, the bill also raises concerns about the appropriate roles of the legislative and executive branch in such investments, Gordon said.

“In particular as ultimately passed, the act contemplates giving final decision making authority over an executive branch function to the legislative branch,” he wrote. “While there is a role for both branches of government in a transaction such as this, we must be ever mindful that each role must be exercised in the proper manner and at the proper time in the process.”

Gordon said the executive branch will continue its efforts to evaluate the purchase and will report any progress to the Legislature. He also committed to honoring all the requirements for public comment and public involvement in the purchase that were outlined in the bill.

Gordon thanked the legislators who worked with him to draft the legislation in its original form.

“Members of the Legislature and my office worked tirelessly crafting a process to provide the ability to conduct due diligence on the land and assets being offered for sale to the State of Wyoming,” he wrote. “I appreciate everyone’s efforts.”

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Gordon Slams FTC Attempt To Block Joint Coal Venture

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Mark Gordon file photo
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An attempt by a federal agency to block a joint venture between two major coal companies was criticized by Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday as “wrongheaded.”

Gordon’s comments came in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s decision to file an administrative complaint challenging the joint venture between Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal.

“I believe this complaint by the Federal Trade Commission is a wrongheaded attempt to drive a nail into an industry which is struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace,” he said. “It could also result in significant impacts to the workforce of the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder coal mines.”

The two companies announced last summer they would merge their assets in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and in Colorado. The move was seen as a way to allow both companies to better compete in the ailing coal industry.

The FTC, in its complaint, alleges the transaction will eliminate competition between the two companies and lead to higher coal prices for power utilities and ultimately, energy consumers.

But Gordon said the complaint does not take into account the competitive forces already at work in the energy sector.

“Today’s energy marketplace is broad and includes wind, solar, natural gas, hydroelectric and geothermal, all of which have become more competitive since 2018,” he said. “The FTC appears to have ignored this fact and seems intent on extending the uncertainty facing coal companies in the Powder River Basin. I don’t believe the broader energy marketplace will benefit from a challenge to this merger.”

Cat Urbigkit: State Trust Lands Aren’t “Public” Land

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By Cat Urbigkit, Cowboy State Daily Columnist

I’ve written several columns about the proposal under consideration by the legislature that would have the State of Wyoming investigate purchasing 1 million acres of private surface and 4 million acres of mineral rights in the checkerboard country of southern Wyoming.

Governor Mark Gordon and legislative leaders are pushing the idea to purchase the Anadarko assets now up for sale by Occidental Petroleum, and the two bills paving the way for the deal are House Bill 249 and Senate File 138. Both bills are winding their way through the legislature, with HB249 set to be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Monday Feb. 24th at noon. To listen to those deliberations, access the livestream here.

Most people I’ve talked to about this proposed land deal usually respond with “What the …” and “I thought the State was broke,” but some have expressed the view that it would be good to have more public land, more public access, more areas set aside for wildlife – as if state and federal lands are managed in the same way. They aren’t.

Trust Assets

When Wyoming became a state in 1890, the federal government granted it 4.2 million acres to be held in state trust to produce income to support public schools and other public institutions (such as the state hospital). The Wyoming Constitution and statutes require the State Board of Land Commissioners (the top five statewide elected officials) to manage trust assets for two purposes:

  1. Long-term growth in value; and
  2. Optimum, sustainable revenue production.

Management of state trust land is done in four primary ways (surface leasing, land transactions, mineral leasing, and royalty compliance) with the purpose of generating revenues in the form of rentals, royalties, and fees.

The land deal bills before the legislatures note that subject to exiting lease and contract rights (which the state can renegotiate), “all state laws governing the management of state lands shall be applicable to assets purchased” in this land deal. Let’s have a look at how state lands are managed.

Ag Use

For ag leases on state lands, grazing leases (for grazing livestock, raising crops, or other ag uses) are 10-year terms and are renewable. Existing state leases can be contested at the time of renewal.

Grazing rates are based on animal unit months and priced at a statewide 5-year average of private property leases less 20 percent (to reflect contributions typically provided as a part of a private land lease). State regulations set out the details of leases costs for crops and other agricultural uses.

Anyone proposing to enter state lands with an activity that will cause surface disturbance is required to contact the person holding the ag lease, and this lessee may negotiate a surface impact payment.

The state has a fee schedule for surface impact payments, and for the first $5,000, the lessee gets 40% and the state gets 60%. For the next $5,000, the lessee gets 30% and the state gets 70%. For everything over $10,000 the lessee gets 20% and the state gets 80%.

The public is not charged for recreational use of state trust lands, and likewise, holders of temporary use permits are not charged.

Not “public” lands

State trust lands are to be managed to produce revenue, so they aren’t comparable to federal “public” lands like that of the Bureau of Land Management that are to be managed under a multiple-use mandate. But the State Land Board has adopted rules allowing the “public the privilege of hunting, fishing, and general recreational use on state trust lands.”

Recreational privileges on state trust lands come with sideboards: the lands must be legally accessible, and off-road use, overnight camping, open fires, and anything else that would damage the property are prohibited on state trust lands.

So you can hike, fish, and play on state trust lands by day, but no camping, fire pits, or charcoal grills (except in camping areas established by State Land Board). Cultivated croplands on state trust lands are not open to public use.

The state may issue permits for furbearer trapping and outfitting/guiding on state trust lands, (either exclusive or nonexclusive), and outfitters may be allowed to establish camp sites on exclusive permits.

Some state trust parcels are closed to all public use, while others have seasonal restrictions on public use, or restrictions on the discharge of firearms, hunting, or the use of motorized vehicles.

Other Uses

About 1/3 of the 3.9 million acres of state trust land are leased for oil and gas development, and other acreages are subject to leasing for coal, uranium, trona, bentonite, precious minerals and stones, limestone, zeolite, and sand and gravel. The state also offers state trust land for commercial and scientific fossil exploration.

The Forestry Division of the Office of State Lands is responsible for managing about 263,000 acres of forested state trust land, including timber management and harvest on these properties.

With the dire lack of public information released about the proposed land deal, it’s no wonder the public is confused about what lands are included, and how it might be managed. If our state leaders have a vision for these lands, they certainly haven’t shared it with the public.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Medicaid Expansion in Wyoming: Supporters, Opponents Debate

in Government spending/News/Health care
2904

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to expand Medicaid to provide more Wyoming residents with health insurance coverage might help keep people in Wyoming, but the cost might be too much for the state to handle, speakers at a panel discussion on the idea said Thursday.

Opponents and supporters of a bill proposed by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee debated the idea during a panel discussion hosted by the Wyoming Liberty Group.

The Revenue Committee’s bill is headed to the full Legislature for its consideration during its budget session, which begins Feb. 10. Estimates indicate that the bill would allow another 19,000 Wyoming residents to qualify for coverage under Medicaid at a cost of $9 million a year to the state.

Jan Cartright, executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association, said the benefits would outweigh the risks of adopting the expansion plan similar to programs in place in 37 other states.

“I think this is about people’s lives and I think I will work very hard with legislators to provide common sense arguments that are based on fact that would show this is a gamble Wyoming should take,” she said.

Several legislators, however, expressed concern over the cost of the program. The total cost is estimated at $154 million every two years, with the federal government paying about $136 million of the cost, leaving the state to pay the remaining $18 million.

“Ten percent of a large number is still a large number,” said Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan. “And we don’t have that money. We are scrambling, scratching and clawing, looking under the mattress for quarters. We’re not in any position to grow our state government at all. We need to be cutting our government.”

However, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said the expansion might help keep residents in the state in the face of declining jobs in the mineral industry.

“In the next five years alone, we’re projected to lose 1,000 more jobs,” he said. “They equate that to about 4,000 people in the state that won’t have employment. They’re probably going to be forced to move somewhere else.

“The nice thing about Medicaid expansion in that respect, they’re part of the community, they want to hold on,” he continued. “If they can have access to part-time jobs to get them through until they can find other full-time employment in the state and we can keep them here, that’s great. Once they leave, we’re not getting them back.”

But the added burden of $18 million every two years for the state Health Department could result in cuts to existing department programs, said Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne.

“I am very concerned, if our revenue picture’s the same, that we would expand Medicaid and then tell the department to find that money, $20 million a biennium, roughly, inside your agency,” she said.

However, Josh Hannes, vice president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said the expansion would give officials in the state and the health industry to work together to develop a plan that would fit the state.

“We have an opportunity, I think, to work with our policy makers, our Department of Health, Department of Insurance, our folks at (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to create a plan that works for Wyoming,” he said.

Naomi Lopez of the Goldwater Institute warned attendees that an extra influx of federal money will not necessarily lead to improved health care.

“There are a lot of areas where you can actually improve the delivery of care at a lower cost and really break away from this idea that government spending is going to be some kind of silver bullet to what ails your health care system,” she said. “It is not. What is actually going to fix the health care system is focusing on patient-centric solutions and I think that is not what Medicaid expansion is going to provide.”

Mark Gordon: U.S. to Buy Wyoming Uranium

in News/politics
2897

By Bill Sniffin

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday morning in Lander that President Donald Trump placed $150 million in his upcoming budget for the purchase of domestic uranium to replenish military supplies. 

Gordon said he spoke with Larry Kudlow, an economic advisor of the president, who said that working with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the purchase was included in the budget. 

“I’m excited,” Gordon said. “Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Larry Kudlow. He let us know that in the president’s budget there will be $150 million item to buy uranium for the strategic weapon reserve.”

“This is a real boon for our uranium industry and for the miners,” he said.

Wyoming is the largest producer of uranium of any state.

Uranium prices have plummeted in recent years because of foreign countries dumping uranium at below market rates. 

“We had asked if he would consider a tariff on uranium that is coming from Kazakhstan,” Gordon said. “For those of you who don’t know, Kazakhstan mines with sulfuric acid, no reclamation, and no real standards for the workforce. They have environmental disaster after environmental disaster but it keeps their prices low.”

Gov. Gordon was in Lander and Fremont County meeting with the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes and talking to the Lander and Riverton Rotary Clubs. 

Governor Gordon Will Support New Lodging Tax to Promote Tourism

in News/Tourism/politics
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal
2838
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“I can support it,” Governor Mark Gordon said when asked if he can get behind the concept of a statewide lodging tax to fund the future of tourism.

Gordon was addressing the members of the Wyoming Press Association during that group’s annual meeting in Casper.

“This is an important step for the tourism industry, and I support that industry,” he said.

Tourism is the state’s second largest industry behind energy production and has more employees, 33,000, than any other industry.

Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

The new lodging tax proposal contains the following items:

• New title- Wyoming Tourism Account Funding.
• Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored bill
• Imposes a 5% statewide lodging tax (3% dedicated to tourism 2% guaranteed and replaces existing 2% local option lodging tax)
• Up to additional 2% local option lodging tax can be renewed every 4 years but would be vote of governing local government (city council or county commissioners depending if city or county wide tax) instead of vote of the electorate.
• State parks overnight camping would be subject to the tax (except annual resident camping passes, state fair campgrounds and county fair campgrounds- they would all be exempt)
• 80% of the 3% that is dedicated to tourism would be deposited into the newly created tourism account and shall be spent on Wyoming Office of Tourism/Wyoming Tourism Board (subject to legislative approval before spending every year)
• Remaining 20% would be deposited into newly created tourism reserve account. (Subject to legislative approval before spending every year) No more “tipping point”
• Local option lodging tax permissible expenditures amended to include “digital content, social media, staging of events, educational materials and other tourism related objectives including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience”
• The Bill, if passed, effective January 1, 2021
• Thresholds for when lodging tax shifts from 90/10 to 60/30/10 updated to 2020 dollar values (nothing changes, the thresholds have always been tied to the cost of living index and so thresholds are simply updated to what they are in 2020-they remain tied to index moving forward)
• All existing local option lodging taxes stay in place until their next scheduled election.

Wyoming, Montana to Sue Over Coal Export Terminal

in Energy/News
2767

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming and Montana will join forces to sue the state of Washington over its refusal to allow the construction of a coal export terminal, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday.

Gordon, during a news conference, said the two states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether Washington’s decision to block construction of the Millennium Coal Export Terminal amounts to a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, Wyoming and Montana officials feel Washington’s decision violated the Interstate Commerce clause, which gives only the federal government the authority to regulate the flow of goods between states, Gordon said.

“This case is about the right of states to conduct commerce,” Gordon said. “A question as old as our Constitution. In the case of Washington state’s actions, we believe Washington has offended that right and we seek to restore all the rights afforded to the states by our Constitution.

The coal port terminal, seen as a way to provide Wyoming coal with access to overseas markets, was rejected by Washington officials under terms of the Clean Water Act.

However, Gordon said Washington’s actions amount to an embargo coal from Montana and Wyoming mines.

“In denying the Millennium Bulk Coal Terminal, Washington officials used political considerations to block our ability to export one of our state’s greatest natural resources,” he said. “Using this same logic and tactics, Washington could block access to foreign markets for almost any product we or any other state might wish to export.”

Gordon also said Washington refused to let the company proposing the terminal address the state’s concerns.

“In effect, Washington’s actions indicated there was no way way, no how that Washington would work with the applicant,” he said. “The state just didn’t want the project to export commodities from the interior West and was willing to use any tactic it could find to make sure.”

How the Wyoming Legislature builds the state budget: A primer

in Government spending/News/politics
Legislature
2641

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

On Feb. 10, the 2020 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature officially begins, one that could be somber and frustrating — considering Gov. Mark Gordon has told lawmakers that after mandated expenses they only have around $23.5 million to play with.

As in prior budget sessions, the 12 members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, which crafts the state’s two-year spending bill, has met for a good chunk of December, poring over rows of numbers, grilling state agency heads and discussing the needs of the state. 

Most sections of the biennial state budget that lawmakers will pass will go into effect July 1 and end June 30, 2022. Read on to learn more about the JAC and the budgeting process. 

The agencies

The budgeting process starts with the heads of state agencies, which fall under the executive branch, submitting budget requests to the governor budget in the autumn before budget sessions, which the Wyoming Constitution states must occur during even-numbered years.

The governor

Each governor is required to release budget recommendations by Dec. 1 prior to a budget session, per the Constitution.

“What the governor does is he meets with all agencies and listens to their requests,” said John Hastert of Green River, a former Democratic lawmaker who served on JAC for about eight years.

The budget recommendations that the governor prepares for the Legislature show the agency requests and whether he accepts, modifies or rejects each one, Hastert said. 

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon submitted budget recommendations with the expectation of around $3 billion in revenues from the General Fund — the state’s main bank account — and the Budget Reserve Account, which is akin to an overdraft account for the General Fund. 

Gordon largely recommended the Legislature keep spending low, considering the ongoing slump fossil fuel revenues, which most state leaders do not believe will be reversed any time soon, as the natural resources industry is undergoing fundamental changes. 

Gordon called for significant reduction in capital construction and limits on tapping the rainy day fund – to be used solely for legislatively-mandated educational needs and local governments. 

“We have only $23.5 million in structural (ongoing) funding available toconsider distributing during this biennium to any entity, including the entire executive branch, higher education, the Judicial Branch, and the Legislative Service Office,” Gordon said in his budget recommendations. “Additional spending cuts are on the horizon and appear imperative to keep Wyoming moving forward.”

Budget hearings

During the first week of December, the governor and agency chiefs meet with the JAC and explain budget recommendations and requests.

This year, Gordon met with the JAC on Dec. 9. The agency heads met with the JAC through Dec. 20. 

JAC interviews with agencies are expected to continue into the beginning of January, from Jan. 6-10 and again from Jan. 13-17.

Hastert said the information during the interviews with the agencies is valuable: “They get first-hand information,” he said. 

JAC markup

In the last two weeks in January, JAC markup begins. Lawmakers will start on the first pages of the governor’s budget recommendations and “mark up” the items with their own ideas of what the budget should look like. 

“They start with the governor’s recommendations and it’s either an ‘aye’ vote or ‘no’ vote or modify,” Hastert said. “Most of the time, it’s usually taking more of a cut. It’s just the nature of JAC to try to cut even further.”

The JAC’s version of the budget is the one that will be submitted for review by the Legislature.

Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal Portrait Unveiled

in News/politics
2651

Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal has joined fellow past governors in being honored with a portrait to be hung on the wall of the Capitol.

The official portrait of Wyoming’s 31st governor was unveiled in front of a crowd of about 200 people during ceremonies in the Capitol on Friday.

Freudenthal, who served two terms as governor, from 2003 through 2010, was alternately praised and roasted by other officials who attended the event, including former Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso.

Mead noted that Freudenthal, a Democrat, was hesitant to have his portrait painted by artist Michele Rushworth.

Mead recalled that at one point, Freudenthal said no portrait should be painted of him until after his death.

“I know you’ve said in the past ‘Wait ’til I’m dead,’” Mead said. “And when he said that to me, I said, without thinking, ‘What’s the difference?’”

Freudenthal’s wife, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, said she finally convinced her husband to sit for the painting.

“I told him that it would happen one way or another and that he wasn’t getting any better looking,” she said.

Freudenthal thanked members of the crowd, who also included former Gov. Mike Sullivan, for attending the unveiling and urged them to recognize the good that they do.

“We thank the Lord for having given us the opportunity and for having given us you for friends and for having given us this family,” he said. “We would ask that you appreciate what you do. It’s kind of you to come and appreciate what we do. But take stock of yourself. You do wonderful things. Be proud of it.”

Looking ahead: What 2020 will mean for Cowboy State

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2020
2628

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

I can see clearly now – the year 2020 will emerge as one of the most important years in Wyoming’s history as various trends emerge.

Like the perfect score on an eye test, 2020 has the makings of perfect vision when it comes to trying to identify issues important to the state. But wait; there is both excitement and dread. Is this the year for some exciting innovations to catch hold in the state?  Is this the year when our spending excesses catch up with us?

State leaders are looking for some home runs in job development.  Maybe more firearm companies will move here. Can we slow down the devastating blows to the fossil fuel industry, especially for coal?

The Legislature meets for its biennial budget session on Feb. 10 and you can bet some hellfire rhetoric will be heard about how “robbing our rainy day fund” is driving the state to the poor house.

Yet the facts will show we have over $1 billion in that fund and some $20 billion in other funds stashed in various coffee cans from the permanent mineral trust fund.  Going broke?  Compared to other states, Wyoming is a beacon of good financial governance.

Gov. Mark Gordon is not one of the shrill voices as he suggests austerity will be with us for a while. Rather than across the board cuts, he likes each agency head to adjust his or her budget in ways that make sense to it and to the state.  Tough decisions are expected to be made and some folks will lose their jobs. 

I am looking forward to covering the Legislature in its brand new remodeled digs.  State Sen. Eli Bebout reminded me that I was wrong in my last column about how much was spent on the remodeling. The correct number is $301 million, or $500 for each man, woman, and child in the state. By the looks of the place, the future will show that it was a good investment.

Looking ahead to 2020, I hope the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie are placed back outside by the entrance of the building, where they belong.

Some 300 miles northwest of Cheyenne, the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will open in May.  Dan Starks has created Wyoming’s newest great museum.  Folks, this is going to be a treat. You have no idea just how big and how impressive this museum is going to be. It is a game changer for tourism in the western part of the state.

Commercial air service made some big changes when Sheridan, Riverton, Gillette, and Rock Springs all became aligned with United-SkyWest.  We have seen some amazing experiments in state and federally subsidized air service in these communities over the past ten years.  This new plan should be helpful for everyone.

The national election in 2020 will have ramifications in Wyoming. A Donald Trump reelection could provide an economic boost through his support of fossil fuels and his reducing anti-fossil fuel policies from taking effect. Trump’s efforts to improve Ag trade with China would be welcome, too.

In Wyoming, we will elect a new U. S. Senator. The assumption is that current U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney will run.  Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis is already running hard.  Former Gov. Matt Mead says he is not and Jackson GOP Megadonor Foster Friess says he is weighing his options.

If Liz Cheney moves up to the Senate race, the race for her House seat could be one of the all-time donnybrooks in Wyoming election history.  For political observers, this will be an exciting year in Wyoming.

Two big important jobs will be filled in 2020. The University of Wyoming will hire a new president after trustees did not renew Laurie Nichols contract in 2019.  Also, the Wyoming Business Council will be seeking a replacement for Shawn Reese.

The move toward more transparency (like 2020 vision?) will soon be getting one of its first big tests.  State Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs), has requested a list of every Wyoming school employee and his or her salary as he goes into the Legislative budget session.  Lots of folks are complaining and do not want that information out.

Some years ago, the Casper Star Tribune annually published a list of the highest paid state employees showing his or her wages. This request by Sen. James opens the door for some media outlet to also disseminate the list. 

Gov. Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines have both showed initiative when it comes to transparency. Will 2020 be the most open year yet?  Let’s hope so.

I am a big fan of the Rachel’s Challenge program, which works with schools to prevent bullying, teen suicides, and school shootings. It looks like 2020 will be a banner year in Wyoming as more schools sign up for the program.

There will be a push to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program, which will save the Cowboy State millions of dollars and provide needed medical service to many needy people.  Also on the medical front, there will be efforts to have medical facilities be required to publish their “cash/self-pay” prices for procedures and medical drugs.

Gov. Gordon is also leading an effort in 2020 to have the Public Service Commission investigate Rocky Mountain Power’s new plan, which will close most of its coal-fired power plants sooner than expected. 

Gordon is also working hard to open some ports somewhere where Wyoming coal can be shipped overseas.  Again with a Trump administration, there is promise for this development in 2020.

Also on the energy front will be the development of thousands of new giant windmills, as we see the state slowly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in 2020.  The state’s biggest solar project is also due to be expanded, north of Interstate 80 in SW Wyoming.

Figuring out a way to pay for all the maintenance on Interstate 80 will see the beginnings of exploring a tolling system.  Meanwhile, it is hoped that Wyoming drivers pay better attention and fasten their seat belts more in 2020. The 2019 year was deadly on the state’s highways.

We can’t write a column like this without mentioning musical superstar Kanye West and what he is doing in Park County. Now that will be an interesting story in 2020 as he continues to expand his businesses there.

Let’s hope that with a year named 2020, we can maintain a clear vision for Wyoming’s future that improves the lives of its 580,000 citizens.

Happy New Year!

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Decision on computer science standards expected by Feb. 14

in News/Education
2601

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It’s going to likely be an eventful Valentine’s Day for anyone who’s been following Wyoming’s computer science standards saga. 

That is the deadline for Gov. Mark Gordon to make his decision on whether to approve the standards submitted by the state Board of Education.

Currently, the standards are in the middle of a 75-day review period where Gordon, the Legislative Service Office, the Legislature’s Joint Management Council and the Attorney General’s office will look over the standards, possibly make small amendments or recommendations before they are finally signed into effect. 

If the various offices determine there are too many issues with the standards, the promulgation process must begin again. Either way, Feb. 14 is the final day in the review period. 

Laurie Hernandez, Standards and Assessment director for the state Department of Education, noted that Attorney General Bridget Hill recently completed her assessment of the standards, allowing them to move forward in the final step of the promulgation process. 

“There were a couple of minor things noted that I needed to adjust, but that was all from the AG review,” Hernandez said. 

Small adjustments to the language are common, but if a major issue is found in the standards, it could mean sending them back to the early steps of the promulgation process, meaning it would have to go through weeks of more reviews and public comment. 

“Restarting the process would come with some type of change that wouldn’t be considered natural outgrowth,” Hernandez said. “When the LSO and AG offices review the standards, they’re looking at whether or not the letter of the law is being met or if there is anything egregious being covered.”

The last major changes to the standards were made in November, when the State Board of Education reviewed an opinion from Hill about them. She noted to the board that some of the terminology in the standards was confusing and certain words weren’t used consistently.

The board made two amendments, clarifying that “enhanced” benchmarks for computer science education would be available to, but not mandatory for, all students. The other amendment removed performance level descriptors (PLD) from the standards for kindergarten through fifth grade. The PLDs will still be available to teachers in a guidance document, though. 

The standards under review are based on those created by the Computer Science Teachers Association. The standards set by the organization are intended to develop a clear understanding of the principles and practices of computer science.

Gordon’s communications director Michael Pearlman said he expects the governor to review the standards later in the 75-day period, as Gordon is deliberative and wants to ensure he’s considering everything.

“Obviously, we don’t want to take too long, because we’re all cognizant of how long this process has been,” Pearlman said. 

Lachelle Brant, an education policy advisor to Gordon, said she couldn’t speak about what was in the final version of the standards since the LSO is still reviewing them. But she said she hoped to get the standards approved by the governor quickly to give districts enough time for implementation. 

By law, the standards have to be in place by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. Some districts like Laramie County School District No. 1, Platte County School District No. 2 and Sheridan County School District No. 1 are already working to implement standards, but other schools will need more time to learn them and incorporate them into the curriculum. 

“Some of these districts knew the Legislature passed a law and that these standards would be an expectation down the road, so they’ve worked to be ahead of the game,” Brant said. “I think some larger districts are concerned because these standards were passed and there was no additional funding for training. The Department of Education is working to fill that financial gap by applying for grants, so that’s helping.” 

Hernandez noted that the standards team has created a three-year implementation process plan calling for the Department of Education to provide professional development for educators across the state on the standards. 

The review committee that helped write the standards earlier in the year found ways that educators could cross-reference other curriculum with computer science in an effort to make the integration process easier.

“These courses ranged from language arts and social studies to electives like (physical education) and fine performing arts,” Hernandez said. “The committee knew that with a brand new set of standards, there would be some angst by adding computer science to these educators’ plates. The intent was to provide resources to help implement these as easily as possible.”

Deadly highways, new capitol, coal collapse, new governor & UW president forced out

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Cowboy State 2019
2596

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist

The year 2019 will go into the Cowboy State’s history books for a great many reasons – many of them not very pretty.

One big example was Wyoming’s normally benign highways turned deadly in 2019, as a nearly all-time record was set for people killed in traffic accidents.

As of this Dec. 15, some 142 people had died compared to 111 for the entire year of 2018. And getting close to previous all-time record of 150 set in 2014.

Worst economic news came with the bankruptcies of coal companies and the human toll that resulted from them.

In Gillette, companies are still sorting out the aftermath of the Blackjewel companies’ financial demise.  Two huge mines, the Belle Ayr and the Eagle Butte, were shut down by that financial fiasco by the national coal company giant, idling 600 workers.

On the bright side, it looks like many of the Gillette area jobs will be preserved for the near future.

A worse situation is in the small towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, both a coal mine and a power plant are in the process of being shut down, leaving 300 workers idled. And even long time retirement benefits are threatened because of the bankruptcy actions.

On a bigger statewide picture, the Rocky Mountain Power Co. says it will be closing down giant power plants in Rock Springs, Glenrock, and Gillette sooner than previously expected. 

The demise of the fossil fuel industry both nationally and locally could be welcome news to folks who believe that industry causes climate change, but the harsh reality to Wyoming citizens is that this will be a cold, hard reality check to thousands of people relying on paychecks from that industry.

The Donald Trump presidency has seen the elimination of some onerous regulations such as one rule that resulted in a fine to a Wyoming rancher of millions of dollars for building a small pond. That rule was eliminated and the rancher was saved.  

Bad news hit the ag community when a major canal collapsed near Torrington during prime irrigation season.  High summer temperatures almost ruined crops before repairs were made and the water flowed again to 488 producers in two states.

As of the country’s most windy state, the good news is that thousands of huge turbines continued to be developed in 2019.  Plus there are more on the drawing boards. 

Squabbles over how, or whether, to tax these whirling behemoths will be a continual bone of contention going forward.

The year saw the installation of a new governor, Mark Gordon, who is arguably the most prepared person for the job we have seen in the last 50 years.  He had been the State Treasurer.

Our biggest state institution, the University of Wyoming, sustained a big shock when the trustees failed to renew the contract of President Laurie Nichols. It was all done in secret; no reasons were ever given. She has moved on to Black Hills State in Spearfish and UW is on the hunt for a new president. Lots of controversy swirled around that situation, including efforts by state media to learn the rationale behind the dismissal, but at this time, still no answers have been forthcoming.

In 2019, Wyoming citizens saw their state capitol building turned into a treasure. After fours years and $337 million ($581 for every man, woman, and child in the state), this amazing edifice opened in mid-summer to rave reviews. The facility rivals any museum or attraction in the state, according to former Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne.

Longtime geologist Ron Baugh of Casper has a dim view of our energy future: “The first thing that comes to mind about the high (low) points of the last year is the continued demise of the coal industry and the continued shrinking of Wyoming’s tax base,” he says. “This will have a continued negative impact on every person, town and county in the State. If not felt individually, it has and will continue to be felt collectively.” 

“I believe that Wyoming is on the brink of major changes the likes of which we old timers have not seen in our lifetimes. I hope that Wyoming can make the changes and still be Wyoming,” he concludes. 

Also in 2019, moves were made whereby the state’s seven community colleges can start offering four-year degrees in some fields. This was heralded by Brad Tyndall, the president of Central Wyoming College in Riverton.

Wyoming was founded because of the railroads. In 2019 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the rails across the country. Wyoming and the nation celebrated the driving of the golden spike in Promontory Summit in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869.

 In commemoration of that, the biggest steam locomotive ever, the newly-restored #1404 Big Boy, left Cheyenne and traveled west and back again to celebrate the event, delighting crowds wherever it went.

And perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Kanye West adopting Wyoming as his new home. The musical superstar bought ranches near Cody and Greybull and is planning on moving some of his business interests to the Cowboy State.

And finally, we all celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.  What a wonderful milestone that only Wyomingites can celebrate! It can be argued about the why and how it came into being way back when in 1869, but the fact remains it happened here first and it was real.

Next: Looking ahead to 2020.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

March, rally recognize 150 years of suffrage in Wyoming

in News
2516

By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

Several of the participants in a march Tuesday to commemorate the anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming said the event helped draw attention to instances of inequality that still need to be addressed.

On Dec. 10, 1869, territorial Gov. John Campbell signed the legislation giving Wyoming women the right to vote and hold elected office. Suffrage in Wyoming came 50 years before Congress approved legislation giving women across the country the right to vote.

“And unfortunately, Washington doesn’t know that,” said Gov. Mark Gordon, who participated in the march to the Capitol. “So we need to make sure they understand. We were the first.”

Despite Wyoming leading the nation in the area of suffrage, the state still needs to address areas of inequality, said Britney Wallesch, executive director of Black Dog Animal Rescue and a participant in the march.

“The wage gap is certainly a problem, as we know, in this state,” she said. “Lack of female representation in our elected offices is still a problem. But I think that this march and this day and this year of celebration is a bit of encouragement that things will begin to change.”

Former state Sen. E. Jayne Mockler agreed more work needs to be done.

“We do have a long way to go,” she said. “We have a lot of inequality in a lot of areas in this country and that’s what this is about, is recognizing that it’s important to get out there and finish the work.”

The secret to resolving some of the issues still facing society is to get more women elected to office, said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie.

State Auditor Kristi Racines said the state could benefit by having more women in elected office.

“The more points of view we have, the better decisions we make, the better debate we have,” she said. “So I think that’s really important that we continue working toward that.”

Legislators on dwindling state revenues: ‘It’s real, it’s bad’

in Energy/News/Taxes
Silhouette of a Pump Jack
2450

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As coal, oil and natural gas revenues decline, state legislators could have some hard decisions ahead, according to information generated by a strategic planning effort created by Gov. Mark Gordon. 

Dubbed “Power Wyoming,” the planning effort forecasts several scenarios for mineral-based state revenue streams during the next five years, all of which predict a deficit in coming years. 

The information compiled by Power Wyoming was presented to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee on Nov. 11. 

“The best projections in this model are very unlikely, and the worst are the most likely,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, the Senate committee’s chair. “That’s very scary.”

Case worked on Power Wyoming with Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the House Revenue Committee. Also on the team were members of the executive branch and economists familiar with the state’s energy sector such as Rob Godby, the University of Wyoming director for Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and a College of Business associate professor. 

Zwonitzer said the planning effort is the starting point to prepare for diminishing mineral revenues. 

“Power Wyoming is just the first step of saying, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen to Wyoming,’” he said. “The group was formed to get the message out there: ’It’s real, and it’s bad.’”

Renny MacKay, Gordon’s policy adviser, said Power Wyoming was not established to be a group of individuals working on potential solutions to the state’s revenue problems, but rather a group of experts working to gather to analyze data.

“This is a cone of different scenarios for both revenue and energy production,” MacKay said.

In its current iteration, Power Wyoming provides insight by compiling information from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, among others.   

“Energy production is declining … and if there is production decline, the traditional jobs we have in Wyoming would be impacted,” MacKay said. “Information gives us power. The more we look at it, the more we talk about it, we can figure out what our opportunities are as a state.”

Worst case scenarios

While the coal industry’s struggles are being felt across the state, Case said Power Wyoming illuminated potential problems with the natural gas sector as well.

“I did not realize the issues with natural gas were as serious as they are,” he said. “Everybody else is thinking natural gas is doing great, and it’s not.”

The planning effort’s initial simulation results highlight some scenarios where the state’s total mineral revenue drops by 10 percent as early as 2020-2022 before a potential partial recovery by 2024. Some scenarios show a full recovery to expansion in revenues, but Power Wyoming reports they are the least likely cases within the current market conditions and expectations.

Most scenarios predicted a decrease in both Wyoming’s total employment and population, but in the worst case scenarios, the state’s total employment could decrease by about 20,000 jobs by 2024, followed by a similar decrease in population.

“In the next five years, there’s no way to absorb those (lost) jobs,” Zwonitzer said. “That means we’ll either have to have an increase in taxes, or a decrease in government services.”

In the worst case scenarios, he said the state would most likely need to pursue both. 

“We’ve lived a certain way in this state for 100 years with minerals paying the taxes,” Zwonitzer said. “That major revenue source is going away. So what does that look like for our future, and what do we want to do about it?”

Unreliable oil

Some of the scenarios, including those in the best case category, relied heavily on increased oil production balancing decreased coal and natural gas production. But Case warned against putting faith in the oil market.

“I think oil is very susceptible to environmental and carbon risk,” he said. “Changes in policy from Washington, D.C., and from other states could make it impossible to grow petroleum.”

A low-carbon policy consideration was also provided for the Revenue Committee as part of the Power Wyoming data package. Case said the presentation offered a more realistic outlook of oil than the initial simulation results put together by Godby.

In the policy consideration, Shell Global estimates a high usage of liquid hydrocarbon fuels, such as gasoline, in 2020 by about 25 million barrels a day. After the peak, however, the oil company predicts a gradual decrease down to 10 million barrels a day in 2060 and about 2 million barrels in 2100 as part of its strategy to comply with the Paris Climate Accord.

Most scenarios presented by Power Wyoming indicate the mineral sector is going to take a significant hit in the next five years, but even if the best case scenarios come true, Case said the future of energy is moving away from Wyoming’s traditional mineral offerings.

“This will tell you that the bad times are here,” Case said. “This is not just a tool for the Revenue Committee, but it’s also a tool for us. If you’re an employee in the coal industry, it’s probably time for you to get your own house in order.”

MacKay said Gordon is already working on the next steps of the planning effort. 

“We are bringing folks from the private industry now,” he explained. “Power Wyoming will definitely stick around for the foreseeable future.”

Gordon releases tight budget for next biennium

in Government spending/News
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Gov. Mark Gordon’s release of his budget proposal for the 2021-22 biennium on Monday came with a recognition of the declining fortunes of Wyoming’s mineral sector.

Gordon said his budget proposal — his first as governor — kept spending low without cutting programs.

“The point to me has been to understand what those budget cuts will mean operationally across the whole of government,” he said during a news conference Monday. “I think that’s a process that takes more time. We haven’t identified any programmatic cuts at this point.”

Between spending requirements set by law or the Constitution and limits on revenues — estimated to total $2.26 billion during the next two years — Gordon said he is recommending a budget that he said will keep spending low and reduce capital construction.

The budget for the General Fund — the state’s main bank account — recommends providing public schools with $161 million from Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account on top of the $1.7 billion schools are to receive from the Schools Foundation Program. In addition, he recommended $105 million be given to local communities.

Gordon’s budget proposes spending $94.7 million on capital construction rather than the $150 million proposed to his office. He also recommended spending $238 million on school construction and $21 million for one-time bonuses for state government employees.

“My goal in this budget was to take care of people first because they are key to a productive government,” he said. “I have mentioned several times how incredibly hard working people in Wyoming government are. And I recognize that they have not had the recognition that they have really deserved over time.”

Gordon, in his comments during the news conference and in the letter to the Legislature accompanying his budget proposal, said his budget was prepared with an eye toward changing economic conditions.

“These changes, including declining coal production and low natural gas prices, will impact how we fund government services over the next years and probably on into the future,” he said.

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee will begin its review of Gordon’s budget in a series of meetings to be held through December and January. The committee will forward its recommendation for a biennium budget to the full Legislature, which begins its 2020 budget session in February.

2021-22 BUDGET POINTS

  • Total proposed budget: $3.2 billion
  • Appropriation for capital construction: $94.7 million
  • Appropriation for local communities: $105 million
  • Appropriation for School Foundation: $1.75 billion
  • Appropriation for school construction: $238 million
  • Appropriation for Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund: $12 million
  • Appropriation for Energy Commercialization Program: $25 million
  • Appropriation for the University of Wyoming: $438 million
  • Number of new employees: 35

Five questions with Public Records Ombudsman Ruth Van Mark

in News/Transparency
public documents
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A Torrington native and longtime congressional staffer has taken her new duties in a state office created to mediate disputes over the release of public documents.

Ruth Van Mark has been in the office of public records ombudsman, created by legislation approved by the Legislature earlier this year, since her appointment to the post by Gov. Mark Gordon on Sept. 30.

Van Mark returned to Wyoming in 2012 after serving in a number of positions in Washington, D.C., including stints as the legislative director for U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and as the minority staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In an interview with the Cowboy State Daily, Van Mark discussed, among other things, her vision for the office and how she will work to resolve disputes that sometimes arise when government entitles are asked to release documents.

Cowboy State Daily: What do you see as the main objective of your office?

Van Mark: 

Well, when the governor interviewed me, he told me in no uncertain terms that he wants transparency. And that he wants the exemptions from the law … interpreted as narrowly as possible. Because he wants as much information available to the Wyoming public as possible and as quickly as possible.

So I see my job as carrying out that mandate. And setting it up to make it as easy as possible for people to contact the office, get us the information they need and access the information.

So one of the things we are doing to accomplish that is we are working, even today, on a button on the governor’s website that people can go to and hopefully get all their questions answered on how they can get a public record. 

We’ll help direct them to the right agency. If they’ve contacted the agency and they have a problem, they can initiate a complaint with the ombudsman and we’ll respond to it.

Cowboy State Daily: How do you plan to accomplish that?

Van Mark: 

I think it’s going to really depend on what comes to the office, because in addition to educating agencies on what it is the public records act requires of them, I can’t go in and just pick records and say ‘I’m going to make this public.’ 

So I have to wait until a citizen comes to me and says ‘I’ve requested this information, I believe it falls within the parameters of the public records act, I’m having problems.’ And then we can get to work and do that, and make it as available as possible. 

So it’s a little difficult right now to say how we’re going to do it, we’re just going to have to … do it. So what I’m trying to do now is establish procedures.

On our website, we’re going to try to make it as user friendly as possible. We ask maybe somewhat leading questions: ‘Have you contacted the agency that holds the record? If you haven’t, this is how you do it.’

But the act is very clear that at any point in the process, the public can come to the ombudsman or the courts. So I can’t really say ‘You can’t come to me first,’ but I believe it will probably work better for the person requesting the information if they go to the agency that holds it first.

And I will give you one example. (It) was a simple little thing. (A woman) had contacted the agency that had the record and she hadn’t heard back from them. So I just called them and said ‘Hey, such and such has asked for such and such, could you give them a call?’ They called her right away, she got the information she wanted, she was happy. So it can be as simple as that. 

Cowboy State Daily: What do you see as the main obstacles to the release of information?

Van Mark: 

I’ve been talking to some of the agencies and asking them ‘What are some of your frustrations?’ I believe it’s not that they don’t want to release the documents, it’s that they have time constraints on them and (restraints on their) resources. The biggest concern people are going to have is complying within the deadlines established in the law. 

But reading the law, it says you have to acknowledge (a request) within seven days and deliver within 30 days unless you contact the individual requesting the information and you work out a time frame.

This is still Wyoming, I think people are reasonable, I think that if agencies get in contact with the people who contacted them and they feel like they can’t produce the information within the prescribed time frame, they can work out a deal with the requester. And if that can’t happen, they can come to me and I’ll try to work out a deal that both can live with.

Cowboy State Daily: How will you handle disputes over document releases?

Van Mark: 

One of the things I learned working 30 years on Capitol Hill in D.C. was how to bring two warring sides together, come up with something you can live with.

My last position on Capitol Hill was as the minority staff director of a Senate committee and in order for that committee to do its work, both sides of the aisle had to work together and we had to move forward. Sometimes, you have to put aside your emotions and see what the goal is and find the sweet spot to getting there. 

This is building on that, where if a constituent or requester has requested information and the agency says ‘No, we don’t have to deliver that to you under the public records act,’ the first thing I have to do is determine what exactly the public records act says with respect to the request. And then from that point on, try to mediate a third path, so to speak, so that both sides can move forward. 

Of course, there may come a time when it’s not possible and either the requester has to go to court or … give up on it. 

The goal of this office is to always come up with a satisfactory result that both sides can live with. We want to avoid the court as much as possible.

Cowboy State Daily: Do you anticipate “growing pains” with this office?

Van Mark: 

Oh, yes. And in fact, I have a couple people around the state I want to beta test my website on. Because that’s going to be one of the things that we’re going to put it out and I’m going to think ‘This answers every possible question that someone could raise.’ But sure enough, it won’t. And so that will be one thing that we’ll continually update and revise.

Certainly … the legislators are already looking at some potential amendments to the statute, so we’re going to have to incorporate anything they decide to change into the website or into how we interpret what’s going on.

And there’s going to be things that come up that I just can’t for the life of me imagine right now. And we’re just going to have to adapt and move forward.

So, yeah, there’s going to be growing pains big time. Anytime you establish an office from scratch, that’s just a given. 

Hopefully what we’ll do, though, is have enough procedures or plans in place that we’ll be able to just take that and run with it and not have to worry about re-doing the whole organization, but we’ll be flexible enough to accommodate changes.

Governor Gordon talks taxes

in News/Taxes
Gov Gordon Taxes
2218

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming must prioritize the work that needs to be done on its roads before it considers raising gasoline taxes, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference Tuesday, said he is taking a “wait and see” approach to the 3-cent per gallon fuel tax increase recommended by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee for consideration during the Legislature’s 2020 budget session.

Gordon said the state has a $165 million gap between income for road maintenance and repairs and the estimated cost to keep the state’s roads up.

“We’re not going to go crazy on trying to figure out revenue to fix all that,” he said. “I think part of the conversation has to be how do we prioritize the roads and how do we make sure people in Wyoming understand what we won’t be able to do before we start saying how we’re going to raise taxes.”

While Gordon said he is not a fan of a proposed corporate income tax the Joint Revenue Committee will submit to the Legislature, he might be able to support a statewide lodging tax, a proposal that died in the 2019 legislative session.

“If it seems to be well targeted and not generally affecting Wyoming’s population, I think I would be generally supportive of that,” he said.

On other issues, Gordon said he is concerned with the growing use of “vape” products by Wyoming’s teens and is working with the state Health Department to study options to deal with the issue.

“It does seem to me it doesn’t make sense for us to sell vaping products to anyone under 21 years of age,” he said. “This is an area the Legislature should look into. But from my standpoint and whether I would issue an executive order, I’m looking at those policies, too.”

Honoring the unclaimed: US Veterans’ remains laid to rest In Evansville

in News/military
2071

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Evansville — The unclaimed cremated remains of 23 United States soldiers were interred with full military honors at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville this week. 

Bagpipes played as members of the Wyoming chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the soldiers’ remains to the Tom Walsh Chapel, where services were held. Greeting the fallen were members of local military, police and firefighters. Along the entrance to the cemetery, more than a dozen people stood at attention, holding flagpoles. 

The services were organized by Tammy Mansfield, state president of the Wyoming State Society Daughters of 1812, a volunteer women’s serviced group dedicated to promoting patriotism. Also helping to organize the event was the Missing in America Project, a group formed to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American Veterans.

Officials attending the services included Gov. Mark Gordon, state Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.

The names of the 23 soldiers being honored were read aloud as the attendees who filled the chapel sat silently. Upon the completion of the reading, and with military precision, a solemn soldier presented a folded American flag to Mansfield. The ceremony ended with the bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace,” followed by a 21-gun salute. 

Following the services, organizers and dignitaries gathered outside to speak with the public.

“For me, this is personal, and it’s especially personal when you see people who we honor this way, who have their remains been unclaimed.” said Gordon.

Gordon praised organizer Mansfield and the Missing in America Project.

“It shows that this country has a love that somebody would have the initiative to say, ‘We need to find out who these people are, and properly honor them,’” he said.

To organize the day’s honors it took “…less than a year, and MIAP kicked in about June.” said Mansfield.

The Patriot Guard Riders is a national group formed to show respect for fallen members of the military by escorting their remains to funeral services. According to Wyoming Patriot Guard Riders’ Sr. Capt. Richard Parks, the riders have escorted remains to 88 services throughout Wyoming this year.

More than 100 million prescription painkillers ended up in Wyoming in six years

in News/Health care
More than 100 million prescription painkillers ended up in Wyoming in six years
1785

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Drug makers distributed nearly 126.7 million painkillers in Wyoming between 2006 to 2012, according to a federal prescription database recently made public.

That includes hydrocodone, which goes under the name brands of Vicodin and Lortab, and oxycodone, which goes under the name brand of OxyContin

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database is being used in litigation by more than 2,000 entities such as state governments, local governments, tribes, labor unions and hospital systems – including several in Wyoming – in a federal courtroom in Cleveland. The litigation alleges drug manufacturers and distributors aggressively marketed the medicines, downplayed their addictive tendencies and created an opioid scourge that’s become a national epidemic. 

The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia successfully fought to make the information public, and the Post created a searchable database — from which the Wyoming data was pulled.

The following describes prescription opioids sent to each Wyoming county between 2006 and 2012:

Albany4.5 million pills18 pills per person each year.
Big Horn3.7 million pills45 pills per person each year.
Campbell10.6 million pills35 pills per person each year.
Carbon3.1 million pills28 pills per person each year.
Converse2.9 million pills31 pills per person each year. 
Crook250,100 pills5 pills per person each year. 
Fremont7.8 million pills28 pills per person each year. 
Goshen2.2 million pills25 pills per person each year. 
Hot Springs1.8 million pills53 pills per person each year. 
Johnson1.2 million pills21 pills per person each year. 
Laramie20 million pills32 pills per person each year. 
Lincoln3.9 million pills32 pills per person each year. 
Natrona20.4 million pills39 pills per person each year. 
Niobrara421,800 pills25 pills per person each year. 
Park10.3 million pills53 pills per person each year. 
Platte2.2 million pills35 pills per person each year. 
Sheridan7.1 million pills35 pills per person each year. 
Sublette1.5 million pills23 pills per person each year. 
Sweetwater9 million pills30 pills per person each year. 
Teton3.3 million pills22 pills per person each year. 
Uinta5.8 million pills40 pills per person each year. 
Washakie3.1 million pills54 pills per person each year. 
Weston1.6 million pills32 pills per person each year. 

Several Wyoming governments are involved in separate litigation over opioids, including the state, Carbon County, Rock Springs, Green River, Casper, Cheyenne, and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court

The plaintiffs in all of the lawsuits argue that drug treatment has cost them millions of dollars through Medicaid and community treatment facilities. Many people, hooked on prescription opioids, have turned to street drugs – including fentanyl-laced heroin. Some have overdosed and some have died— including nearly 50,000 across the U.S. in just 2017 alone

State Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said he was pleased to see the state taking action in the face of large distribution numbers.

“Much of the responsibility lies with the pharmaceutical companies who marketed aggressively, unaware or intentionally ignorant of the consequences,” he said in an email. “We can some things legislatively, but I am pleased to see that the state is pursuing the matter in the courts as well. If legislation doesn’t achieve the desired goal, maybe hitting them in the pocket, where it counts, will.”

Wyoming’s case is pending in district court in Laramie County, where OxyContin maker Perdue Pharma wants it dismissed. The state is opposing the motion.

Michael Pearlman, spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon, said this week that the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office is waiting for the district court to rule on dismissal. 

“In the meantime, the court entered a scheduling order, including among other things, discovery deadlines which the AGs office is following,” he said in an email.

According to filings, the case is expected to continue at least through 2020.
The lawsuits filed by Wyoming cities and tribes are in federal court, all consolidated in U.S. District Judge Dan Polster’s Ohio courtroom. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and other drug distribution companies have offered a $10 billion settlement in lawsuits filed by the various states. A group representing some plaintiffs countered with $45 billion. 

Drug makers haven’t yet begun settlements with the plaintiffs in federal court in Ohio, but the judge is pushing for the parties to settle soon to end all the suits and help set aside money for drug treatment and prevention. Perdue Pharma separately settled with Oklahoma for $270 million.

Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesman, said opioids aren’t just an addict’s problem. Their families and communities are affected too. 

“It causes extra burdens on our law enforcement agencies and first responders,” he said. 

Crews working 7 days a week to repair irrigation canal

in News/Agriculture
Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal
Crews work to repair the collapsed tunnel on the Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal. The tunnel’s collapse in July shut off irrigation water to 100,000 acres of land in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. Officials hope to have water running in the canal within two to three weeks. (Photo courtesy of the Goshen Irrigation District)
1783

 By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Out-of-state contractors are racing to complete repairs on a collapsed irrigation tunnel in Goshen County as governmental agencies analyze the best ways to help affected farmers.

“We’re up there seven days a week trying to get it done as quick as we can,” Goshen Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said. “The farmers want water yesterday, and we want to give it to them.”

The problems started July 17 when an irrigation tunnel collapsed in Goshen County, cutting irrigation water off from more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska at the height of the hot and dry season.

Both Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed declarations of emergency in response to the collapse.

“Our office is continuing to analyze ways to assist and that might include some potential low-interest loan programs and looking at funding sources that might be available to the irrigation district,” said Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s communications director.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Department of Homeland Security and Wyoming Army National Guard also visited the site of the collapse to determine possible ways Wyoming could provide aid, Pearlman added.

Built by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1917 as a part of the North Platte Project, the tunnel is 14 feet in diameter and 2,200 feet long and is located about a mile south of Fort Laramie.

Farm Services of America Insurance Officer Vanessa Reishus said the cause of the collapse has not been determined and doing so could be a drawn out process.

“I’m sure the risk management agency is waiting for the engineers to give them a cause for collapse,” Reishus said. “Generally, these things take a really long time.”

If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides the cause was anything other natural, crop insurance won’t cover the farmers’ losses.

At the canal, about 40 workers from the irrigation district and construction crews from St. Louis, Missouri, and Nebraska are trying to repair the canal as quickly as possible, Posten said.  

“I talk to the tunnel guys every day,” he said. “As the ditch crew removes dirt from the top of the tunnel, the tunnel crew is setting steel brace ribs and sealing the breach.”

Recent rains likely helped farmers weather the disaster, but slowed progress on repairs.

“The tunnel crew probably spent half a day pumping water out of there after the big rain storm,” Posten explained. “It didn’t hinder them too much. We’ll take rain every day if we can get it.”

Estimating when the tunnel will be operational again is difficult, but Posten said he’s pushing to get water back to the crops in less than a month.

“I’d like to have water running in 2-3 weeks,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

Parched: 102-year-old irrigation canal collapse threatens livelihood of 800 farm and ranch families

in News/weather/Agriculture
1741

Over 100,000 acres of farm and ranch land in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska have been without irrigation water for more than two weeks after an 102-year-old irrigation canal collapsed.

For the roughly 800 farm and ranch families whose operations straddle the Wyoming-Nebraska state line, the situation is dire and the clock is ticking.

“It was the worst timing in the world,” Goshen County Irrigation District manager Rob Posten said. “17th of July when it’s 90 degrees everyday and not much rain. Couldn’t have been any worse timing.”

“It’s my worst nightmare,” Posten added.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts have both signed emergency declarations allowing the use of state resources to get the old canal repaired and running water.

“I have been in crop insurance for 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this.”

CSD: Crop insurance might not cover irrigation canal collapse losses (July 29, 2019)

The massive canal, constructed during World War I, runs 85 miles through Wyoming and another 45 miles in Nebraska.

“If there was a hundred year warranty it ran out last year,” said Shawn Madden with Torrington Livestock Auction.

There is hope to salvage at least part of the year’s crop yield as Wyoming meteorologist Don Day predicts some rain may be on the way for eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. The bad news, Day warns, is that late August in Wyoming tends to be bone dry.

For the livelihood of 800 families, the window to get the canal operational is small and getting smaller.

However, Cactus Covello of Points West Bank said the farming families of the region will find a way through the crisis.

“Agricultural people in Nebraska and Wyoming, they’re the most resilient you’re going to come by,” he said. “They’re tough. They’ll find a way. We may lose some, but you won’t lose many. They’ll find a way to survive.”

Symons: Groundwork laid to improve government transparency

in Column/Transparency
Wyoming government transparency
1723

By Gail Symons, member of the Transparency Working Group, special column to Cowboy State Daily

While it is easy to “want what I want when I want it,” the challenges of government transparency are much more complex than simply asking for data and receiving it immediately.

It was an early morning meeting the second week of the 2019 Wyoming Legislative Session.  The newly installed Governor Gordon and Auditor Racines brought to order the first meeting of the Transparency Working Group to a packed room in the Jonah Building.  On the phone was the CEO of OpenTheBooks, an organization that had brought suit against the previous Auditor for failure to produce five years of state spending data and vendor files.  A Wyoming based group, Equality State Taxpayers Association, joined in that suit. After being provided an opportunity to air their grievances and expectations, the CEO threatened to add Auditor Racines to the suit if the requested data was not produced in 30 days.

In September 2018, then candidates Governor Mark Gordon and Auditor Kristi Racines announced the Transparency Working Group to explore means to improve financial and operational transparency in Wyoming government.  The Working Group includes Sen Cale Case (R-Lander), Rep Tom Walters (R-Casper), Cheyenne attorney John Masters, Sheridan Press Publisher Kristen Czaban and myself, a civics wonk with 30 years’ experience in data-based process improvement.  Governor Gordon and Auditor Racines serve as co-chairs and are supported by policy advisor Renny MacKay.

Fast forward to the end of February and the close of the Wyoming Legislative Session.  The Auditor’s office had released the remaining spending records, refunded the $8,000 paid by the two groups and the suit had been dropped.  For the first month in office, the Auditor’s team had concentrated on completing the manual scrubbing of the records.  

During this same session, the Joint Corporations Committee had introduced SF0057 Public Records with short time frames for response and felony penalties.  After a committee meeting where it became clear that the impact on state agencies and their ability to comply had not been considered, an unusual working committee meeting was held. 

With input from advocacy groups, private citizens, state agencies and special districts, a substitute bill was crafted and subsequently passed. This removed the felony provisions, eased the time restrictions, required a public records person to be designated in each entity and created an Ombudsman position in the Governor’s Office.  The Ombudsman role is to serve as a mediator between requestors and government entities.

Fast forward again to mid-July.  The State Auditor has rolled out an online state checkbook developed in-house by the office’s IT individuals.  The checkbook can be found at www.WyOpen.gov.  This is static data that has filters and scrubbing applied to state financial data extracts to comply with privacy and other statutory protections.  The Auditor is encouraging use of the site and feedback to increase usability.

Also this summer, Interim Topic priority # 2 for the Joint Judiciary Committee has advanced.  That is a two-year study on public records and public meetings statutes to modernize in light of changes to law, technology and promote realistic transparency.  For 2019, the committee is reviewing the public records law to expand and improve on the work started with SF0057.

The Legislative Service Office has provided a summary of the current Wyoming Public Records Act including the wide range of exceptions to disclosure.  That report cabe be found online here.  To understand the financial and operational impact of records requests, a survey across all entities was conducted on the volume of requests, elapsed time to comply and costs in applied times.  The results are available here

The next Joint Interim Judiciary Committee meeting is scheduled at Casper College, Room EI 100 on August 15th and 16th 2019.

This past week, five candidates are being interviewed for the Ombudsman position by members of the Working Group and the Governor’s staff.  In addition to providing mediation, the individual will receive complaints, establish timelines for release of records and may waive fees charged by an entity.  Given the certainty that a new bill will be introduced by the Interim Judiciary and the uncertainty on exactly what are the exceptions to disclosure and how to apply them, the Ombudsman is expected to also provide policy and guidance.

On June 4th, 2019, Governor Gordon issued a letter to the state Elected Officials and Directors providing guidance on budget preparation for the 2021 -2022 Biennium.  In addition to expecting this to be a true biennial budget, meaning it will last for two years rather than be amended after one year, he emphasized his commitment to transparency with the requirement for having the budget be more readily understood by the public.  New this year is a State of the Agency covering all aspects of the operations and tie directly to the budget request. This letter, agency budget instructions and a budget request strawman can be found on the Budget Office website at https://ai.wyo.gov/divisions/budget.

There is significant truth to the saying, “if it was easy, it would already be done.”  Great strides have been made in reconciling perceptions of transparency (or lack thereof) with statutory, organizational, systemic and human realities.  In a very short period of time, groundwork has been laid to establish improved capabilities at all levels of state and local government with consistent processes and policies. 

The real success of these collaborative efforts will be tested in the upcoming 2020 legislative budget session.

Irrigation tunnel collapse could cost Wyoming’s ag millions, repairs underway

in News/Agriculture
Tunnel collapse Torrington
1703

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

More than 100,000 acres of agricultural land are without irrigation after a canal tunnel collapsed July 17 in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

“The tunnel collapse shut the water off in one of our canals,” Goshen Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said. “Right now, about 400 landowners are affected just in Goshen County.”

Approximately 52,000 acres of the affected area are in Goshen County and the rest is across the state line in Nebraska, Posten said.

John Ellis, a Goshen County commissioner, said if unchecked, the collapse could have a disastrous impact on the entire county.

“I’ve never seen a disaster close to this scale,” Ellis said. “Agriculture is Goshen County. There’s very little other businesses, and they all rely on agriculture.”

On Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon signed an emergency declaration to allow the use of state resources to help fix the collapse.

“This is a serious emergency, and we recognize addressing an issue of this magnitude will take coordination, especially because it affects so many Wyoming and Nebraska farmers,” Gordon said in a news release. “We are working with an understanding of the urgency of the situation, along with a need to proceed carefully. Wyoming is united in its effort to find the right way to help the Goshen Irrigation District get up and running.”

Created in 1926, the irrigation district was formed to contract with the federal government for water from the North Platte River. The district pays the U.S. a proportionate share of the estimated cost to operate and maintain the facilities that store the water for use, including the Pathfinder Dam and Reservoir and Guernsey Dam and Reservoir, according to the district’s website.

“We supply water to the farmers,” Posten said. “We only have two canal tunnels, and they’ve both been there 100 years. The one that collapsed was built in 1917.”

He said the collapse was not maintenance related.

The district has not yet received state resources to repair the collapse and Posten said it’s still too early to speculate what those resources might be.The repairs, however, are already underway.

“We have people that know how to fix this working on it as we speak — professionals from St. Louis, Missouri,” he said. “I don’t know the full scope of the work needed, but they will likely pump grout in around the tunnel, fill in the voids and install steel ribs to shore it up, and then try to run water through it.”

If the water is not turned back on soon, Ellis said the cost could be through the roof. Although he was not aware of an official estimate of potential damages, Ellis said he’s heard guesses between $90 million and $250 million.

From a policy making standpoint, he said the collapse would likely affect the county’s future, but determining how is a waiting game.

“We don’t know the total impact,” Ellis said. “Until we know the financial impact, it’s hard to tell what we may have to do.”

Whatever the case, Ellis said he’s proud of the way the irrigation district is handling the situation.

“The Goshen Irrigation District have done such an excellent job,” Ellis said. “They’ve left no stone unturned. They’ve done everything possible to get this thing working again.”

New approval poll shows high approval of Gordon, Barrasso and Enzi

in News/politics
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has the fifth-highest approval rating of U.S. governors, according to new polling by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C.-based media and technology company. 

Furthermore, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso, Wyoming’s junior senator, has the fifth-highest approval rating and Sen. Mike Enzi, the senior senator, enjoys the 7th highest, according to Morning Consult’s approval ratings of all 100 U.S. senators

The Morning Consult poll surveyed nearly 500,000 registered U.S. voters. A total of 649 Wyomingites were surveyed: 323 Republicans, 236 independents and 90 Democrats. 

The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

Among approval of Gordon, a Republican: 

  • 59 percent approved of his job performance; 9 percent disapproved.
  • In the first quarter of 2019, when he had just begun as Wyoming’s governor, 53 percent approved and 10 percent disapproved. 
  • 33 percent of Wyoming registered voters were undecided in the second quarter, the highest among the 50 governors.

Gordon is still a new governor, noted Jim King, a University of Wyoming political science professor.

“The Legislature’s budget session next year will be more telling,” King said. “Mr. Gordon will lay out his priorities in his budget proposal and will reveal more about his vision for the state. For now, a Republican governor in a Republican state who has had no notable missteps yields a strong poll rating.”

Among approval for the senators, who are also Republicans: 

  • 57 percent approved of Barrasso’s job performance; 26 percent disapproved in the second quarter of 2019.
  • In the first quarter, Barrasso’s approval rating was 56 percent; 26 percent disapproved. In the second quarter of 2018, his approval rating was 52 percent and his disapproval rating was 33 percent. 
  • 54 percent approved of Enzi’s job performance in the second quarter of this year; 25 percent disapproved.
  • In the first quarter, Enzi’s approval rating was 52 percent; 23 percent disapproved. In the first second quarter of 2018, 52 percent approved and 31 percent disapproved. 

“On the senators, there is no real difference in the ratings of Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Enzi once the poll’s margin of error is taken into consideration,” King said. “These numbers on Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Enzi are quite similar to those in other polls (by) this firm and by others.”

Wyoming’s low population may also play into the likability ratings, said Kristin Walker, a GOP strategist.

Chances are high that Cowboy State voters have personally interacted with elected officials. That doesn’t happen everywhere, said Walker, who is working on the U.S. Senate campaign of Cynthia Lummis, who is seeking Enzi’s seat when he retires.

(Lummis’ daughter, Annaliese Wiederspahn, is the publisher of Cowboy State Daily.)

“This means Wyoming’s politicians are forced to keep a close ear to the ground, and when they aren’t meeting voters’ expectations — they are going to hear about it quick,” Walker said. 

Indeed, the Wyoming Democratic Party criticized Barrasso on Twitter last week for not coming criticizing a President Donald Trump rally in which people chanted, “send her back,” in reference to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat. 

Levi Shinkle, chairman of the Young Democrats of Wyoming, noted that Barrasso, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, toes the party line. 

“We’re in an overwhelmingly pro-Trump state,” he said. 

Gordon says true biennium budget will lead to better planning

in Government spending/News
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Gov. Mark Gordon’s efforts to create a true two-year budget for state government should encourage state agencies to plan better for the future, he said Thursday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said his plan to limit supplemental budget requests to true emergencies will lead agencies to plan better for the state’s biennium budget cycle rather than depend on supplemental budgets, such as the one passed recently by the Legislature.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that what is conveyed in (the two-year budget to be reviewed in 2020) is truly a biennium budget,” he said. “Hopefully, by looking at a two-year cycle, you start to look at what you really need. I’m working with the Legislature to see if there are ways we can incentivize better savings and build a cost-conscious culture throughout our agencies.”

State agencies submit two-year budgets for approval by the Legislature during even-numbered years. Supplemental budgets are submitted during odd-numbered years and were originally seen as a way to provide funding for urgent needs until a new two-year budget could be approved the following year.

In recent years, the supplemental requests have become more substantial.

Gordon admitted he is not the first Wyoming governor to try to limit the use of supplemental budgets.

“I’m certainly one of a number of governors that have tried this, but I’m really going to try to stick to this,” he said.

Gordon said he has already advised state agencies to budget with declining revenues in mind.

“The budget instructions I sent to agencies reminded them that revenue streams will be tight,” he said. “My goal, and I’ve been pretty consistent, has been to avoid across-the-board cuts.”

The governor also said he wants to study the number of uninsured children in the state, which a recent study said was nearly double the national average.

“I’ll bring together a task force with our insurance agencies to see what tools and what efforts we can apply to really address that issue,” he said.

On other issues, Gordon announced he has named policy director Buck McVeigh to serve as his acting chief of staff, filling the vacancy created with the retirement of Pat Arp.

Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups

in Economic development/News
Streamlining bureaucracy could improve opportunities for Native American startups
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

LARAMIE — Complex bureaucracy could be one of the big hurdles facing Native American entrepreneurship in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a conference here.

Gordon opened the WY-Wind River: Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Symposium on Wednesday at the University of Wyoming with remarks about moving forward together with Wyoming’s Native American population, embracing the outdoors and supporting entrepreneurship. 

“If you want to start a business in this day and age, you have tools … you can tweet to the outside world, you can reach anybody in the world,” Gordon said. “But if your own government is standing in the way of getting things accomplished, it can be really frustrating.”

A streamlined process through the levels of government — tribal, state and federal — needs to be created to facilitate economic growth on the Wind River Reservation and throughout Wyoming, Gordon said.

“In this administration, we want to do everything we can to ensure entrepreneurs can thrive,” he said.

Speaker and moderator Gary Davis, the Native American Financial Services Association executive director and Native Business Magazine publisher, agreed with the governor’s statements and said unity was the key to economic development.

“If we can’t advance together, we can’t advance,” Davis said.

Progress could require difficult conversations, he added, but without them, the Native American community could forget its entrepreneurial roots.

“In the most layman’s terms, economy is to create business that generates revenue, (turning each dollar over) at least seven times … before it leaves the community,” Davis said. “I struggle to think of one community that can say they do that in Indian Country.”

To build a better environment for starting businesses, he said Native Americans need to invest in themselves and seek buy-in from their governments.

“The trick is how do we not foster dependency when advocating for economic development,” Davis added.

Following the presentations, the symposium opened a panel moderated by Davis and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, which featured Native American influencers from around the state and ENDOW Executive Council Member Jerad Stack.

Panelist Cy Lee, an ENDOW executive council member and Wind River Development Fund executive director, discussed the potential for growing the tech industry on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Lee explained a redundancy loop for internet service was under construction on the reservation, which could lead to tech-centric job opportunities for reservation residents.

“When this loop is completed … an industry opens for growth,” he said.

By establishing the redundancy, the area on and around the reservation could have the best internet service stability in the state, Lee said. Internet stability could attract tech companies, opening a currently limited job market for reservation residents.

Another panel member, Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Riverton, touted the success of the Wind River Casino as a tribal entrepreneurial endeavor.

“When I started work (at the casino) in 2005, there were 62 employees,” Clifford said. “Before the economy and state funding crashed, we had over 800 employees. Sixty percent of those were were female. A lot of those workers were single moms and single dads.”

The biggest challenge facing the casino employees was child care, she said. A daycare is currently being developed on the reservation with a programming emphasis on Northern Arapaho culture, Clifford added. When the casino was founded, she said a large portion of the profits were leaving the community. During its expansion, the owners focused on becoming self-reliant.

“We started doing things for ourselves,” Clifford explained.

By doing so, they were able to create more jobs on the reservation and utilize previously abandoned buildings for services such as laundry.

The symposium was hosted by the High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI), and after the panel discussion, HPAIRI Director James Trosper announced a new partnership with the Wyoming Technology Business Center.

The partnership could provide Native American startups access to millions of dollars in micro-grants for market research. Additionally, the business center announced it was kicking off the Wind River Startup Challenge, an economic development initiative modeled after the Fisher Innovation Challenge and designed to financially reward entrepreneurship on the reservation.

The symposium closed with a performance by the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers.

LIFT Conference promotes leadership among high schoolers

in Economic development/News
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By Cowboy State Daily

This weekend in Casper, high school students came together to hear from a variety of speakers including Governor Mark Gordon, entrepreneur Jerad Stack, and Leadership Wyoming Executive Director Mandy Fabel, among others, at the second annual LIFT Wyoming Conference.

The conference, hosted at Natrona County High School, invited Wyoming’s future leaders to the table for panel discussions, seminars and networking as the state seeks ways to retain young talent and to encourage Wyoming’s young people to stay and brighten the future of local communities.

From the halls of Casper’s Natrona County High School, Frank Gambinosends us this report.

Gordon vows to make Wyoming a leader in carbon capture

in Energy/News
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GBy Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday renewed calls for the state to become a leader in carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Gordon, speaking to the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said by taking a leadership position in the areas, Wyoming could protect energy producers.

“That is something I’m gong to fight for … every single day,” he said. “We can be a leader in changing the climate, keeping people working, not disenfranchising those people who produce quality energy at a low price for the people around this country.”

Gordon also said the Legislature’s general session, which ended in March, was a productive session despite media reports of disputes between the House and Senate and between the Legislature and the governor’s office.

“The true story of it was it was a very good legislative session and we worked hard all the way to the end,” he said.

In Brief: Gordon seeks comments on sage-grouse plan

in News/wildlife
Governor Gordon Seeks comment on Sage Grouse plan
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By Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon is seeking public input as he begins his first review of the state’s sage-grouse protection rules.

Gordon, in a news release, said he would accept public comments until May 1 on the sage-grouse executive order first put in place by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal in 2007.

“Wyoming has been leading in sage-grouse management for more than a decade, and one of our hallmarks has been stability and predictability for all involved,” Gordon said. “I intend to use the public’s feedback to inform my review and help identify areas where we can improve upon what is already working while keeping a steady course.”

The executive order lays out procedures to minimize disturbances of areas designated as “core population areas” for the sage-grouse and encourage development outside of those areas.

The order was first signed by Freudenthal and was amended by former Gov. Matt Mead in 2015.

Gordon said he hopes to improve on existing elements of the state’s approach to sage-grouse conservation without changing the primary elements of existing rules.

“Sage-grouse are an important species to Wyoming,” he said. “The state has a significant interest in seeing that the bird remains protected while allowing for responsible development.”

The executive orders and associated documents can be seen by visiting https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Habitat/Sage-Grouse-Management/Sage-Grouse-Executive-Order

Comments may be submitted to wgfd.hpp@wyo.gov.

First Lady launches support for food security at Friday Food Bags

in News/Community
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Both Jennie Gordon, First Lady of Wyoming and Governor Mark Gordon worked alongside Cheyenne volunteers Monday evening to fill 925 food bags for area children who may not have access to nutritious meals when school is out for spring break.

Wyoming’s First Lady decided to spotlight food security after a visit with a friend in Sheridan opened her eyes to the number of children in Wyoming communities who go hungry or don’t know when their next meal will come.

“…if you have food in your stomach, you can learn, you can do better in school. Just a lot of things in your life improve,” said Gordon.

Gordon added growing up in a big family, with lots of mouths to feed, made clear how a good meal is foundational for kids.

The event was put on by Element ChurchOneReach, and Friday Food Bag Foundation.

Element Church Associate Pastor Steve Doolin said the church partnered with area non-profits to tackle the issue head on.

“Well, I believe it’s an epidemic,” said Doolin. “It’s not just in Cheyenne, it’s all over the country but lack of food is very prevalent in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Friday Food Bag, One Reach, Element Church are making a huge difference in trying to combat that.”

Gordon vetoes call for state to sue over coal terminal

in Energy/News
shipping containers at export facility
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have allowed the Legislature to sue the state of Washington over the denial of permits for a coal export terminal has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Friday vetoed HB 251, saying if legal action was taken by the Legislature, it could interfere with court filings already submitted by the executive branch.

“Giving courts the impression that two branches of Wyoming’s government might be second-guessing one another — in fact potentially litigating over the top of one another — would be counterproductive to our best efforts to protect Wyoming’s interests,” he said in his veto message to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan. “Furthermore, dividing the limited resources of Wyoming’s Attorney General between two potentially contemporaneous cases would do a disservice to both at the expense of Wyoming.”

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the measure would have set up a cooperative effort between the legislative and executive branches.

“It’s going to take a team effort between the executive branches for there to be success on this issue,” he said in a prepared statement. “This bill created a framework for this team effort to occur, so that we have the best chance for success on this issue. The veto is detrimental to that effort.”

Washington officials have denied necessary permits to build a coal export terminal to export coal from Wyoming and other states to foreign markets. Lighthouse Resources, the company proposing the export terminal, is suing Washington over the denial, alleging the state is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Wyoming and several other coal-producing states have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Lighthouse’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Gordon wrote that while he supports the Legislature’s desire to protect the state’s economic interests, legal action taken by lawmakers independent of the executive branch could cause confusion.

“This bill … carves an unprecedented path — absent compelling reason — encouraging the Legislature to take a potentially different course from that that the state is already pursuing,” he wrote. “The obvious confusion this could engender is at best problematic and at worst fatal.”

Responsibility for such legal action rests with the executive branch, not the Legislature, Gordon wrote.

However, Gray said by taking up the issue, the Legislature would have sent a message to Washington officials.

“This bill shows the state of Washington that we are serious about this issue,” he said. “Also, the Legislature looking into this issue creates the environment where there is the best opportunity for success.”