Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new population figures for Wyoming and other states. The numbers received little attention, but they offered a warning for anyone who was paying attention. For the first time in at least a century, Wyoming recorded more deaths than births.
We’ve heard stories for years of young people leaving Wyoming for what they perceive to be better opportunities in other states. The census figures back up those anecdotes, and serve as a warning for anyone who wants Wyoming to flourish long into the future.
Our state leaders often tell us they are motivated not out of concern for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. But what does it say about their governance that their children and grandchildren aren’t sticking around?
The reality is many of the decisions made at the Capitol have been with the present, and not the future, in mind. The overwhelming focus appears to be on maintaining the status quo so that taxes don’t change, and on legislating national issues with little to no bearing on the state. What does it say that we’re worried that our young people might be exposed to few books in the Kelly Walsh High School library, but not that they are choosing in greater numbers to start their adult lives elsewhere?
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We’ve written many times about the need for Wyoming’s leaders to develop a plan for putting the state on the path toward a more sustainable future. That would require supporting Wyoming’s existing energy industry, but also acknowledging that fossil fuels can’t alone generate the revenue we need to sustain our schools, our towns and other government services over the long term. Our young people are more likely to stick around if they feel there is real economic opportunity here. They’re also more likely to make Wyoming their home if they believe its leaders share their values. As the legislative session gets underway this week, lawmakers would be wise to remember that.
We find ourselves flush with cash thanks to better-than-anticipated energy prices. We can afford, without harming our present, to invest in new ventures rather than in just keeping taxes as low as possible. Gov. Mark Gordon coasted to reelection and is one of the nation’s most popular governors. He has the political capital and the cash to pursue an aggressive agenda that sets Wyoming up for the future.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, should shy away from legislation that distracts us from the goal of a more sustainable future. They should also avoid bills that send the message to young people to find another place to start their families. Polls suggest the Legislature is out of step with Wyomingites – especially young Wyomingites – on a number of issues, from Medicaid expansion to abortion restrictions. Young people are, by in large, not worried about critical race theory or USDA guidelines. Instead, they want to know that their community will have resources for young families, job opportunities and plenty of things to do outside of work.
There’s a clear divide between many young Republicans and the old guard. The Wyoming Republican Party is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, and many older lawmakers are worried about gender identity issues. But the young people they hope will become the next generation of the GOP by in large don’t care who people love or what their gender is. In fact, they prefer a community that’s open and welcoming to people, regarding of their sexuality or gender. And they will vote with their feet.
In coming days, you’ll heard much talk from lawmakers about protecting the future for their children and grandchildren. But pay attention to whether their actions are focused on future generations or on themselves.