State of the State 2020

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon applauds during his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in the House chamber of the state Capitol as Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, top left, and House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, top right, join him. The speech marked the official start of the 65th Wyoming Legislature's budget session. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon gave his second State of the State address Monday morning, offering proposals to protect Wyoming’s energy industries and emphasizing the state’s need to find long-term ways to fund its education system.

Gordon’s speech in the House chamber of the Capitol marked the beginning of the 65th Wyoming Legislature’s budget session, which will last until mid-March. With the state facing a structural revenue deficit projected to grow in coming years, Gordon said his budget aims to start a serious conversation about the state’s future.

“We have savings,” Gordon said. “This means we have time – not a lot of time, but time – to make thoughtful decisions about our future and our budget.”

Gordon touched on the need to recalibrate Wyoming’s funding model for K-12 education. While significant cuts are not expected for the 2021-22 biennium, Gordon acknowledged that changes to the funding model are necessary.

“The valve on education funding is stuck open and will require further consideration by this body as to whether that plumbing will hold up over time,” the governor said.

As a solution, Gordon recommended State Superintendent of Instruction Jillian Balow’s proposal to review the state’s “basket of goods,” which encompasses the mandated items that must be taught in Wyoming schools. Meanwhile, a bill has been filed this session that would establish a select committee of lawmakers to look at various ways to recalibrate the funding model.

With long-term challenges facing Wyoming’s coal, oil and gas industries, Gordon also spoke extensively on ways to protect those sectors and keep them in Wyoming.

“We produce energy better, more safely and with more attention to the environment than anywhere else on the planet, yet our industries are still discriminated against, maligned and decried as dead. Well, not on my watch!” Gordon said to cheers and applause from lawmakers and others in attendance.

In a new proposal, the governor called for a temporary reduction in severance taxes on the industry.

“Estimates of natural gas continue to spiral down,” Gordon said. “I seek the Legislature’s support in crafting a temporary, price-based reduction in severance taxes for those most in need.”

Gordon also expressed support for changes to the payment schedule for Wyoming’s ad valorem, or mineral production, taxes. A couple weeks ago, a subcommittee approved legislation that would change the schedule for those taxes so they are due on a monthly basis.

“Now I realize this presents a seismic shift to our already financially strapped industries,” Gordon said. “The transition must allow long-term, dependable industries sufficient time to adjust.”

Carbon capture, a topic the governor has discussed more thoroughly in recent weeks, was also a point of emphasis. Gordon called on everyone to make sure the next carbon capture and sequestration facility gets built in Wyoming.

“I ask for your support of legislation requiring all new electric generation capacity produced in Wyoming to be reliable, consistent and that a reasonable portion of it be net carbon negative,” Gordon said.

In closing, the governor noted the work of the Legislature, back in the Capitol after four years of renovation, is always at its best when it’s accessible.

“Like past generations in this building, we, too, have a rendezvous with destiny,” he said. “However, like past generations, it can only be done if we work together.”

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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