Mark Gordon

Gov. Mark Gordon talks with attendees during the Industrial Hemp Summit in April in Casper.

The public recently got its first look at the philosophy that will drive Gov. Mark Gordon’s first budget as governor. The former treasurer is taking a conservative approach to the state’s finances, with a heavy emphasis on finding efficiencies and asking government agencies to learn to “live within their means” – a common refrain in Wyoming.

Gordon took office after an energy downturn and, prior to that, the Great Recession, which crippled the national economy. He inherits the challenges left over from the Mead administration and a state budget looking to build at the sunset of what former executive director of the National Governors Association Raymond C. Scheppach predicted would be a “Lost Decade” because of missed economic and revenue growth.

According to new research released by the Pew Charitable Trusts last week, Wyoming is spending significantly less proportionally than a majority of states following the recession. Much of this is a revenue problem. According to Pew, Wyoming’s overall tax collections lag 38 percent behind its peak one decade ago, at the start of the Great Recession. (Only energy-centric Alaska, at an 84 percent reduction, has had it worse.)

Wyoming’s over-reliance on the energy sector in the face of changing markets has played a significant part in its slow recovery as well. According to an analysis by WyoFile’s Andrew Graham last week, Wyoming has lost out on a half-billion dollars per year from a decade ago due to the decline of coal alone – a figure that is only expected to worsen.

In a budget letter to state agencies last week, Gordon acknowledged these realities. He asked agencies to describe what impacts budget cuts would have on them, and he admitted that “with a tight revenue stream, not all needs will be funded.”

But Wyoming, according to Pew, is already spending 28 percent less than it did at the recession’s start, while spending has returned to or exceeded fall 2009 levels in neighboring states like Utah (0 percent), North Dakota (53 percent), South Dakota (16 percent), Idaho (6 percent) and Colorado (29 percent).

The bright spots in the report for Wyoming have asterisks. Though Pew research shows Wyoming’s per pupil education spending is well above fall 2009 levels, the group’s calculations end at 2016 – right before millions of dollars were cut from the state’s education budget following a downturn in the energy sector.

The Week Ahead

Monday: Joint Committee on Agriculture meets in Sheridan.

Tuesday: None.

Wednesday: Joint Committee on School Facilities meets in Casper.

Thursday: Joint Committee on Labor meets in Riverton. Capitol Restoration Subcommittee meets in Cheyenne.

Friday: None.

Weekend: None.

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Wyoming Politics

The Johnson County Democratic Party passed a resolution last week calling for changes to Wyoming elections statutes to make “all municipal and county elections in Wyoming” nonpartisan, a response to party purification efforts led by the state Republican Party, which wants to close its primaries to halt the practice of “crossover voting.”

Rather than narrowing the length of time voters can switch their parties – which Republicans claim will prevent more left-leaning voters from “interfering” in their primaries in the favor of moderate candidates – the Democrats in Johnson County have proposed making party a non-factor: essentially making a situation where the best candidate wins all.

Offshore energy industry lobbyist leaving for Wyoming job: Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, will leave the offshore energy organization next month to serve as the top energy adviser to Gov. Mark Gordon. (via EENews.net)

Cheyenne’s mayor accuses governor of ‘profane and misogynistic’ behavior, cursing at her: Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr accused Gordon Monday of exhibiting “profane and misogynistic” behavior during a closed-door meeting with her in Cheyenne. (via Trib.com)

Gordon asks AG for strategy to sue Washington over coal ports: Governor Mark Gordon asked Attorney General Bridget Hill to research how Wyoming could sue Washington over that state’s decision to deny a coal port permit over environmental concerns, the governor said last week. (via WyoFile)

Lincoln Chafee switches parties, again: New Teton Village resident and former Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee is now registered as a Libertarian, the Teton County clerk’s office confirmed. (via The Boston Globe)

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Local public records battle highlights possible gaps in Wyoming law: A public records feud between the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority and a city councilman has renewed concerns over Wyoming public records laws. (via The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)

Park County coroner needs new space to hold bodies: County coroner Tim Power recently announced at a Tuesday county commissioner meeting Ballard Funeral Home no longer has space to allow the county to use its facilities in order to refrigerate corpses being analyzed in county investigations. (via The Cody Enterprise)

Bedrock erosion: How much has Wyoming lost to coal’s decline? From its peak a decade ago, coal revenue for Wyoming has traced a steady decline. All told, the state today collects at least half a billion dollars less from coal sources each year than it did at the high point. That’s about a third of the state’s annual budget. (via WyoFile)

Eye On Washington

Wyoming voters oppose impeaching president Donald Trump by a rate of nearly 4:1, the highest rate in the nation, according to a new analysis by the analytics group Civiqs.

Democrats have been slowly coming around to the idea of bringing impeachment proceedings against the president. But Wyoming’s delegation in D.C. has been largely been supportive of the president.

Sen. John Barrasso praised new guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency that implements President Trump’s April 10 executive order requiring the EPA to issue guidance to states, tribes and other agencies on implementing the water quality certification process under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The EPA must propose new regulations within 120 days.

Sen. Mike Enzi co-sponsored a bill to amend the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act to allow the interstate sale of state-inspected meat and poultry, joining senators like Sen. John Barrasso.

Rep. Liz Cheney signed onto legislation to amend United States Code and the Small Business Act to improve innovation in defense procurement.

Have any tips or suggestions to make this newsletter better? Let me know! Call me at 307-266-0634, email me at nick.reynolds@trib.com or follow me on Twitter, @IAmNickReynolds

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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