by nathan oster
Gov. Matt Mead called on state lawmakers to develop a clear policy for how to handle the state’s rainy day fund following the release earlier in the day of a report that projects a significant decrease in state revenue for the two-year funding cycle that began last summer.
Speaking to a group of reporters assembled in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Press Association winter convention, Mead also said he was open to the idea of using firing squads to execute condemned inmates, was lukewarm in his support of a bill to raise the minimum wage, questioned the perceived success of the legalized marijuana industry in Colorado and ruled out running for a third term.
The release of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) report, however, was front and center on the governor’s mind when he began his speaking to journalists. Compiled by a panel of state financial experts, the report lowered projections of general fund revenues by $217 million — which equates to 6 percent of the $3.5 billion biennial budget.
Mead said at the end of every June, excess money is rolled into specific savings accounts — “with no discussion and no debates” — and then it sits there, unaccessable to state lawmakers. He noted that the CREG report typically underprojects revenues. It was off by 25 percent in Fiscal Year 2010, 23 percent in FY11, 9 percent in FY12, 18 percent in FY13 and 22 percent in FY14. That 22 percent figure for FY14 represented about $350 million.
The rainy day fund could help the state weather the fiscal storms that occur when energy prices drop, as they have in recent months. While prices at the pumps have been a welcome sight for motorists, they hurt the Wyoming economy.
Oil prices have fallen from nearly $90 per barrel in October to under $40 at the present time.
Mead said that for ever $5-per-barrel decline in oil prices, the state loses $35 million per year.
Mead emphasized that even in this time of uncertainty, “it’s critical that we continue to focus on the things that make Wyoming strong. We have an obligation to continue to build in Wyoming.”
Shifting to the Affordable Care Act, Mead said it’s important that the state capitalize on the system, rather than watching their residents’ health care dollars leave the state. Mead said when ACA came out, he felt it was bad policy. He said he still isn’t a fan of it, but has come to terms with the fact that it’s “the law of the land.” Given that, he said he supports an expansion of the state Medicaid system, citing a SHARE plan as his preference.
Mead said he hasn’t bought into President Obama’s plan to make community college tuition free for some residents. “I don’t feel like that’s where we should be going,” he said. “I feel it’s important for the state and for the students who attend for it to be inexpensive, but I also think they need to have some skin in the game, too, and realize that (a college education) is worth some amount of sacrifice.”
Lawmakers in this session are considering whether to use firing squads to execute condemned inmates. The reason is because it’s become increasingly difficult for states to obtain the ingredients are used for lethal injections.
Mead was asked whether he would sign the bill authorizing firing squads. He said he’d be open to doing so, but has not officially committed. “I’m a proponent of having the death penalty in the state of Wyoming,” he said. “The question is, how do we go about doing it?”
Turning to the minimum wage debate, Mead said has yet to see an analysis that shows for certain that a hike in the minimum wage would be good for the state. Right now, unemployment is low. But if the minimum wage is raised, small businesses might need to cut jobs to make ends meet. That, in turn, would raise the unemployment rate. Mead said he’s looking into it, but has yet to be convinced to the point where he would endorse an increase in the minimum wage.
Asked about wolf management, Mead said he still supports the Wyoming management approach, calling it “a good, sustainable plan.” He said the state, and not the federal government, is in the best position to manage its wildlife.
Mead was also whether his views of the legalized marijuana industry had changed. It was pointed out that Colorado Gov. … Hickenlooper was originally against the concept, but after a full year of observing, has come to believe that it’s been good for his state.
Mead acknowledge the additional $60 million that Colorado has received, but questioned whether the state comes out ahead when factoring in additional law enforcement costs, substance abuse costs and what is going on with respect to the black market.
“We will watch and we will see, but I don’t think it’s the right direction for Wyoming,” said Mead. “I’m not convinced it’s going to be a money maker. Plus when we have people, families going to downtown Denver or to Steamboat and seeing the open use of marijuana, it’s troubling. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to tourism in Colorado in the coming years. I still think Wyoming is in the right place right now.”
Mead was asked whether he’d join the lawsuit filed by some of Colorado’s other neighbors, including Nebraska and Oklahoma, which fear the impact of the legalized marijuana trade on their own states. He said the attorney general studied the issue and decided against it. Mead noted that he’s “a state’s right’s guy” and his position “wouldn’t be to sue the state of Colorado, it would be to sue the federal government.”
Mead ended his Q&A session with a question about his future. He said he believes in term limits and would not, under any circumstances, run for a third term. “Two terms as governor is enough,” he said.
He said he’s looking forward to getting back to ranching — quipping, “where I can start losing money again” — and said he believes a governor would be best suited to represent the Republican Party in the race for the White House in 2016. Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich and Mitt Romney all have gubernatorial experience and would fit the bill, he sid.
“I believe Republicans will have a great opportunity to nominate an extraordinary candidate.”