CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead cautioned against deep cuts to state spending on education and social services, while praising the overall reduction in the size of Wyoming’s government during his tenure as governor in his final State of the State address.

Speaking on opening day of the Legislature on Monday morning, Mead sternly warned lawmakers not to unduly slash education spending, saying that maintaining the quality of Wyoming’s public schools must come before cost reductions.

“I say in advance while we look to find savings, we should do nothing that lessens Wyoming’s long held view on the value of a great education,” Mead said, according to a transcript of the speech.

Mead attempted to stay ahead of arguments that education funding was bloated and in need of a new, less expensive funding model.

“Facts, not anecdotal statements about our schools doing well or not, must lead the discussion,” Mead said. But, the governor added, if anecdotal stories were going to rule, he said his children’s teachers in Cheyenne had done a great job.

Defending spending

Mead’s speech was wide-ranging, touching on his accomplishments during seven years as governor. It tended toward the speculative, with Mead taking few specific positions on controversial issues. He asked the Legislature “to continue to look” at the proposed lodging tax and the $1 increase in the tobacco tax, but did not explicitly call for their passage.

One area where Mead made a clear request to lawmakers was in defending the slight increases in spending for social services and for the Department of Corrections in his December budget proposal.

“Where overcutting has affected programs and services and the people relying on them or created other concerns, we have the opportunity to right-size the budgets of those agencies this session,” Mead said.

“We never want to spend too much — and we haven’t — but if we spend too little, that can be a problem too,” he added.

The governor said he hoped that the Joint Appropriations Committee would provide additional funding to both the Department of Corrections and Wyoming State Fair.

“I look forward to resolving our differences in my favor,” Mead quipped.

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Mead proposed a $2.9 billion budget for the Legislature. While the JAC draft budget, currently being finalized, hewed closely to Mead’s recommendation it also includes deeper cuts to some state agencies.

Emphasizing conservatism

Mead, a Republican, is more moderate than many lawmakers and has split with the Legislature over issues including Medicaid expansion. But the governor sought to assert his conservative bonafides, including reducing the size of Wyoming government, the growth of the state’s savings accounts and resistance to various federal regulations.

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“We have fought the good fight on federal overreach,” Mead said.

Unsurprisingly, Mead also sought to rally support for Endow, his economic diversification initiative that is seeking up to $60 million in one-time funding from the Legislature this session. Mead said he was aware of skepticism surrounding Endow but dismissed the notion that diversification was unfeasible.

“I reject the notion that Wyoming is incapable of determining its own destiny or that our future will only be determined by commodity prices or other exterior forces,” Mead said. “Surely the Equality State — the Cowboy State — has a belief in self-determination.”

Speech widely praised

Leaders from both parties of the Legislature praised Mead’s speech at a Monday afternoon press conference, though House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said she hoped to see a state budget that reflected the governor’s state support for social service programs including homelessness prevention.

“You talk the talk but show me your budget,” Connolly said, repeating what she said was an old adage. “Are we funding the programs? Do we have the political will to fund those programs?”

Republican Senate President Eli Bebout had more unqualified praise for Mead, despite past differences on various issues. Bebout said Mead’s speech was “consistent with the Republican philosophy.”

“That was an incredible speech and said a lot things that I think are near and dear to the citizens of Wyoming,” Bebout said.

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