CHEYENNE — Roughly 48 hours after giving his first speech as Wyoming’s chief executive, Gov. Mark Gordon visited the Legislature to lay out a more detailed vision for the state, pledging new efforts to diversify the state’s economy, stabilize Wyoming’s finances and boost its energy sector while protecting its natural resources.
But he also left a number of questions on the table, leaving those who were present a gentle reminder that his goals cannot be accomplished without cooperation from both houses of the state legislature.
Reiterating a number of his campaign pledges throughout the nearly 45-minute speech, Gordon outlined a number of priorities he has set for his first year in government, from the management of the state’s natural areas to the direction of its economy.
Goals were both tangible and not, with the governor offering aspirations that have yet to take their final form. Where Gordon offered a number of concrete proposals – a high school level program to increase engagement in the state’s budget process, increased independence for the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust and a streamlined bureaucracy in state government – he also outlined multiple objectives that remain without a road map, particularly in regards to finding a sustainable way to fund the state’s education systems and to work toward a “Wyoming-based solution” to solving the state’s rising health care costs.
In all, the governor said the state of the state was “strong,” and though it faces challenges in regards to volatility in its chief industries – oil, gas and coal in particular – the governor expressed optimism about the potential to capitalize on other means to expand the state economy, including tourism, workforce development and a greater commitment toward the state’s investment in natural resources.
Gordon has often discussed a way forward in streamlining the function of state government. Throughout his address, he brought clarity to what that might look like, outlining not only the specific work he wanted to do within the bureaucracy – from pay raises for public employees to improving workflows – but how to approach the issue to find ways each state agency might better work together.
“Health services, family services, workforce services, insurance and corrections make up some of the most significant expenditures in our state,” said Gordon. “This body has wrestled with how best to meet the needs of our people in a cost conscious and compassionate way. My administration will seek to better integrate our approaches across agencies, not through bigger bureaucracies, but by finding synergies and providing better service to our citizens and streamlining our delivery.”
Fiscal responsibility was a recurring theme throughout his speech, with righting the state’s finances outlined as a headlining priority. While much of the work, he noted in his address, remained with the Legislature, he spoke to his goal of setting parameters for how to spend Wyoming’s rainy day account to help balance the state’s finances, and outlined a number of other financial goals he would support to help increase the state’s earnings in the stock market.
Gordon also said the state needs to contain its expenses, find better ways to fund the state’s savings and deliver its services.
A way forward for the energy sector
Wyoming’s reliance on income from minerals and oil and gas hangs over nearly all the issues currently facing the Legislature this session and, with returns not like they used to be, Gordon was realistic about the challenges the industry – and coal in particular – are facing.
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But he also noted that amidst a changing world, there is also opportunity, particularly overseas.
“Around the globe, technology keeps advancing, there is progress benefiting our world by burning coal more cleanly and efficiently,” said Gordon. “Japan and Korea have built the most efficient clean burning fleets of coal-fired electric generation ever. Technologies employed there, when paired with Powder River Basin coal, can reduce the overall carbon emitted to the atmosphere. That is progress that should be a gut cinch for those advocating to control carbon emissions.”
But significant battles remain for that type of progress, particularly on the national stage.
“And yet, our access to these Asian markets remains restricted, tied up in permit after permit,” he continued. “I believe this to be an unconstitutional restraint of trade. And I will strongly advocate for access to all markets.”
Meanwhile, the work to remain on the cutting edge in research and innovation will continue in Wyoming, with Gordon reaffirming his commitment to carbon sequestration technology and other efforts, like an enhanced Energy Office to help speed up permitting and energy development, both for legacy fuels and renewable energy projects. This, he said, was not only to solidify his administration’s commitment to coal, but to work toward combating the effects of climate change as well.
“We in Wyoming are anxious to lead the way to a brighter future, not by following political fashion, but by rolling up our sleeves, doubling down on research and innovation, and solving our world’s energy problems,” he said.
What lies ahead
Health care popped up briefly in Gordon’s speech, with the governor advocating for the elusive “Wyoming-based system” that has yet to take shape in the Legislature.
“We have been given an opportunity to craft a Wyoming solution for health care,” said Gordon. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to bring forth state-led solutions. Health care is too important to our children, our parents, and to each of us. We certainly cannot expand the economy, keep our major employers or attract new businesses if we do not find ways to bring down health care costs.”
While the state’s education department did receive nods for efforts to increase school security, finding a solution to funding K-12 education remains in the air, with much of the answer lying with the Legislature. In his inaugural speech on Monday, Gordon mentioned he would advocate to move beyond a one-size-fits-all solution for education – a point he did not return to in Wednesday’s address.
What he did mention, however, was that he had faith the Legislature.
“I have to say the enthusiasm we have felt over the past couple of days should give us all optimism for our future,” he said. “We are a resourceful people in an amazing state at an important time in our state’s history. Let us make the most of it.”