Anyone who has played Jenga knows that it is a game-stopper to have a single block on the bottom holding everything up. You can’t safely add or remove blocks without sending everything crashing down. You’re headed for destruction, even though it hasn’t happened yet.
Wyoming’s economy has been balanced on a single block for decades and pretending that the game is still viable. And with the recent closure of the mines in Gillette, that single block is starting to show signs of rot.
There is no way to have a healthy, thriving economy, or an independent government in a state with a single dominant source of income. Time and time again, we’ve seen state agencies and legislators bow to pressure from mineral extraction industry interests – allowing mineral extraction near or in protected wildlife areas, trying to pass legislation that inhibits the growth of renewable energy, and even rejecting science standards lest our children learn that climate change is negatively influenced by our state’s main revenue stream.
We do all of these things because for years and years we’ve perched precariously on our singular economic block, and we’re too afraid to make a move. We’ve endured booms and busts, and never dared to admit that the game needed to be reset. Instead of passing efforts like the “big box” tax that would diversify our revenue stream and ensure that businesses that grow wealthy from Wyoming enrich Wyoming in return, we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that coal is “coming back,” and pitted our two main income sources, mineral extraction taxes and tourism, against each other.
Now, like it or not, a move is going to be made for us; our tower is about to come tumbling down, and we are not prepared for it. Unless we take action now to find different ways to fund our economy, we’re not even going to have a chance to set up a new game.