Workforce Development

Jody Christensen of Dedicated Dads Home Improvement uses a saw to cut concrete blocks in September 2016 while renovating the Star Apartments in downtown Casper. Gov. Matt Mead. said he expects the state Legislature to put aside tens of millions of dollars in the coming year for workforce training. 

File, Star-Tribune

Despite the state’s major funding shortfalls, Gov. Matt Mead said he expects Wyoming lawmakers to pass a workforce training package worth tens of millions of dollars when they meet this winter.

Mead said that while investing in workforce training, which is a key part of his economic diversity initiative, may be a tough sell, it is essential to helping the state’s economy recover and grow.

“There is a lot of things that look counterintuitive that will get us where we need,” Mead told a meeting of the Wyoming Community Development Agency Board on Monday in Casper.

Mead said in an interview that the while the legislation is still a work in progress he expects it to call for a substantial sum.

“It wouldn’t be one million or two million,” he said. “It would be tens of millions.”

Mead said it remained unclear how that money would be distributed or where it would come from but that several lawmakers were working on drafting a bill. He declined to name the legislators.

Can it pass?

Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said that he had participated in discussions with Mead and House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and was supportive of approving spending for workforce training.

“It’ll have to weigh against our other revenue demands,” Bebout acknowledged. “But we have to take a 30,000-foot view and look from the future and diversification and providing jobs is a huge one.”

Bebout has favored cuts to state spending in order to balance a shortfall in the main budget that now stands at about $100 million and an additional deficit of over $700 million in the education fund.

But the governor’s ENDOW economic diversification initiative, launched last year, has found strong support among Bebout and other lawmakers who are generally loath to agree to new spending amid the budget shortfalls.

The Legislature approved $2.5 million to kickstart the ENDOW program last session.

The preliminary report released by the ENDOW Council in August identified a lack of skilled labor as one of the main barriers to economic diversification in Wyoming. The council is creating a 20-year plan that will be released next year.

Bebout said that earmarking additional funds specifically for workforce training may be easier for lawmakers to swallow than other spending measures because unlike state agency funding, for example, the request would be a one-time expenditure.

He likened a workforce training bill to a capital building expenditure.

“It’s not an ongoing revenue stream so if we have some capital gains we realize and people want to do some new construction ... this might be a better way to spend some one-time money,” he said.

Harshman did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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