WYOMING – Throughout a 30-minute conference with reporters on Thursday, April 8, Gov. Mark Gordon said he was optimistic and disappointed. Gordon made statements and answered questions shortly after the 66th Wyoming State Legislative Session came to a close.
Out of that session came 77 bills the governor signed into law, a bill that became law without his signature and two bills he vetoed despite passage in both House and Senate.
After all that, the state remained in much of the same position it was in before the session began months ago.
“We ended the legislature much as we began the legislature with serious financial difficulties ahead of us,” Gordon said. “As you all know I presented a budget, I think the end product is about 1 percent from where we were when we presented. I think it’s about as close as anyone can remember. I was happy the legislature chose to put back some funding for people at risk – our seniors and children. I supported that effort.”
Gordon said he was encouraged to work with leadership in both bodies and that bodes well for Wyoming as it determines how to distribute $1.1 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan. That’s another federal program used to assist local and state governments in rebuilding out of the impacts of COVID-19. Guidance from the federal government on fund usage is expected in May but unlike CARES Act funding, Wyoming will have four years to spend ARP funds. Gordon highlighted health and social services, education and workforce, and economic diversity and development as three of the highest priorities for ARP funding.
Gordon said he was disappointed no agreement was made regarding K-12 education funding, what many legislators declared to be the body’s highest priority of the session. He said the ARP could provide education-funding aid; however, the legislature simply didn’t address the core issue.
“Nonetheless we have not addressed the fiscal cliff that I’ve been talking about for, really, over a couple of years now, even in my time as treasurer,” Gordon said. “I want to say that I believe it’s time that I start to take a role in that discussion.”
Gordon said he plans to put together a group to focus on a solution, starting with the core issue: funding. He said that instead of simply raising revenues or cutting the budget, he believed in a more profitable path forward. Gordon said he plans to start with what parents and children want out of the state’s education system.
The governor said Wyoming still has difficult days ahead. He expressed optimism for the oil and gas industry as Americans begin to travel freely once again, but added that the legislature has to safeguard the industry in Wyoming.
Gordon also expressed his disappointment with the influence national politics on this session. He said it was a reflection of how something “spins up” nationally, it has a way of taking hold on Wyoming.
“I really have tried to make sure that we focus on what’s important to Wyoming and put a local government first,” he said. “I do believe, and I always have believed strongly, that government is best when it’s closest to the people.”
Through that, Gordon said he’s hopeful Wyoming legislators can remember and resemble that of a citizen legislature where people take time away from jobs and families to “do the people’s business” in Cheyenne.
Gordon said the sheer amount of money pouring out of political machines in Washington, D.C. has possibly started to turn the legislature away from a citizen legislature to “political professionals.”
The governor acknowledged difficult negotiations in the final hours, which may have resulted in tensions and verbal jabs in the legislature. And despite “unfortunate comments” from some, as the governor put it, he thanked the House and Senate for their continued efforts.
Gordon was referring to comments made by Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, during the legislature’s final day. Scott said House members were “class tax-and-spend liberals that think that they could just tax forever and that you never have to rein government in a bit.” Scott was on the joint conference committee that was unable to reach a compromise on the K-12 funding bill.
When asked more directly about Scott’s comments, Gordon held the senator accountable while also acknowledging the circumstances around the heated, important debate.
“I think we all get exasperated and angry and tired,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t forgive any of that, and I do think that Sen. Scott really needs to think carefully about how he wants to make amends on that.”