Governor Mark Gordon addressed the 66th session of the Wyoming Legislature and the entire state of Wyoming on March 2 in his State of the State address. Gordon offered his remarks from the historic restored Wyoming Supreme Court Chamber.
Gordon read from the first three articles of the Wyoming Constitution, which echoes the US Constitution asserting, “that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness.” And he referred to Article 3, “Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality,” commenting that 131 years ago Wyoming recognized the inherent right of women to vote.
Governor Gordon acknowledged the legislators present, his statewide elected executive branch offices who flanked him. He said, “Their leadership this year has been exemplary.” He thanked current and past legislators for their service, praised the Wyoming National Guard, and expressed gratitude for the leadership of the Northern and Eastern Arapaho tribes and their “diligent efforts to protect the residents of the Wind River Reservation.”
He referenced a report, the first of its kind in the nation, that spotlighted missing and murdered indigenous persons. It acknowledges that Native American Wyoming citizens are subjected to higher rates of violence, and they face obstacles when reporting violence.
Gordon commented that there is a budget shortfall of $500M because of the collapse of commodity prices and the difficulty of facing a pandemic. Notwithstanding, he expressed hope saying, “I’m heartened that we’re making progress statewide, and it’s clear that the path we’ve charted and followed has proven to be among the best in the nation.”
“Our unemployment rate remains below the national average. Fewer Wyoming citizens have suffered from COVID-19 and fewer still have passed, than in other states. But that’s only half the story, because one year later, over 97% of Wyoming businesses are still operating, and that’s far better than elsewhere,” said Gordon.
He further elaborated on the positives: “Through our efforts we delivered proportionally more Cares Act dollars to small businesses than any other state, and our small businesses are hanging in there. And now, when most other states are only beginning to talk about reopening schools. We know Wyoming students have been attending in person, since August. That’s thanks to the extraordinary effort of teachers, parents and students, and our superintendent.”
Gordon paused a moment to acknowledge the 670 Wyoming friends, neighbors, parents and grandparents who have succumbed to COVID-19, saying, “Some have lost decades of love and happiness with their friends and family. And I’m sure by now, each of us can put a face to this tragedy. I know I’ve lost more than one friend.”
“Fortunately, the vaccines are now available and I’m pleased to say that Wyoming’s vaccination efforts are proceeding smoothly, said Governor Gordon. “In fact, Wyoming’s vaccine administration of health care workers, and the vulnerable, is one of the most efficient in the nation. I want to thank health care professionals and providers across Wyoming, for their dedication and work to administer these life-saving vaccines”
Gordon emphasized: “And today, I can say with pride and confidence that the state of our state is strong.”
Governor Gordon emphasized budget clarity as crucial going, referring to his website and Auditor Racines’ website where people could track what’s been accomplished with fiscal transparency. Gordon said, “And as a result of our efforts, there is a balanced budget for you to consider and money in the rainy day fund.”
“Our fiscal health is an issue,” said the Governor, “And like the pandemic, it can’t be ignored. The 2020 cuts were the largest in our state’s history prompted by the largest loss of income in our state’s history.”
He stated he would continue to argue for a simpler budget, “like families are used to with one checkbook. Undeniably we’re entering more frugal times.”
Governor Gordon rounded out his address, emphasizing some key themes important to the state: as to energy, he acknowledged Wyoming’s federal legislators and the role they played in supporting the state. He spoke to his own efforts––along with several other states––to address the moratorium affecting oil and gas operations on federal lands with the current administration in Washington DC. He explained Wyoming has long known the need for a diversified energy portfolio, clarifying that Wyoming is embracing solar and wind development.
He commented, “A hydrogen economy would be a game-changer. It’s not quite here yet, but it’s much closer to reality than theory. Wyoming can and must be a leader in this and other emerging technologies, even as we pursue the development of resources, such as wind and solar.”
Tourism emerged as one of the bright spots for Wyoming last year, according to the Governor. It is Wyoming’s second-largest industry and its largest employer. “This is an opportunity to fuel our economy that we simply cannot ignore,” he said.
The traditional legs of the Wyoming economic stool are energy, tourism and agriculture, but that list is not finite.
Gordon said that the state will continue to try to attract digital asset banking to Wyoming. He said, “We should continue our efforts to make the state the digital asset epicenter of the US.”
As he moved toward the finale of his speech, he spoke of suicide prevention and the state’s need to address the ongoing epidemic of suicide that has plagued not only private citizens but members of the armed forces and veterans as well.
He said, “I’ve offered suicide prevention education to all state employees and over 5000 of them have participated. He said, “These services are not cheap. And we’ve already cut deeply, not by choice, but by necessity.”
Gordon closed the last segment of his address saying, “And I want to leave you with perhaps the most pressing issue for this legislature which affects our most precious resource, our children.”
He acknowledged the difficulty of ensuring the next generation of students an excellent education explaining that it is a moral obligation––while saying that money does not guarantee quality education and that the legislature is facing yet another budget shortfall this year.
He explained that “we’ve relied for years on a funding model that is no longer sustainable, the handwriting is on the wall: that can we kick down the road every year, it’s broken. We have to deal with this issue.”