Wyoming State of the State Address 2014

  • March 05, 2014
  • By Stateline Staff

CHEYENNE, Wyoming -- Feb. 10 --  Following is the prepared text for Gov. Matthew H. Mead's (R) State of the State Address:

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the 62nd Legislature, Secretary Maxfield, Auditor Cloud, Treasurer Gordon, Superintendent Hill, Chief Justice Kite, Judge Phillips, all members of the Judiciary, fellow citizens, my family.

Good morning.

This is my 4th state of the state address, and the occasion is as special as it was 3 years ago. I'm honored to be here.

For the last three years each address has been available live on line – that's a first for our state and it shows the type of opportunities that technology can provide. In this instance, technology provides unprecedented access to my annual address to the Legislature on the opening day of the session. Welcome to all those attending in person and via the internet.

Remembering Sue Wallis

I begin this morning by remembering Sue Wallis. Sue served in the Legislature as a Representative from Campbell County since 2007. She died on January 28th. Sue was a poet. Her eloquence was evident in her writing and in debating on this floor, in my office, and around the state. She was a wonderful person and we miss her. I ask for a moment of silence in Sue's memory.

Recognition of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes

I appreciate that members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes are with us. Good communication and relations between the State and the Tribes are most important. Thank you for coming. Please stand so we can recognize you.

People in uniform

Before I get further into my remarks, I want to pay tribute to people in uniform, all people in uniform, remembering first and foremost the 79 Wyoming service members from the various branches and from our Army and Air Guard who have died in serving the country since 9/11.

The bravery and sacrifice of these individuals is beyond anything else, above all else. We can never repay them, but we will never forget them.

In 2013, our Guard had 2797 members. These men and women of the Guard raise their hand, they volunteer to defend what we hold dear. They deploy overseas, with all the risks attendant in such deployment. They serve here at home for defense purposes and in disaster assistance. They have been tremendous – for example, with the serious floods of 2011 and the severe wildfires of the last two summers in Wyoming and other western states.

Carol and I have visited our troops in Cuba and Kosovo and we had the rare privilege to serve over 160 of our Guard members Thanksgiving dinner in Bahrain last November. Wherever we visit the troops overseas the message is the same, base commanders make known our Guard serve at the highest level. So I can tell you firsthand, Wyoming can be proud every day of the men and women in the Wyoming Guard. Please join me in showing our appreciation to General Reiner and the men and women of the Wyoming National Guard. General Reiner, please stand so we can acknowledge you.

The same recognition is due those currently serving in the US military and our veterans. All of us – in fact the whole country – stand on the shoulders of our veterans. We pay tribute to them today and every day.

And we must also take a moment to recognize what our law enforcement means to the State of Wyoming. Law enforcement officers respond to emergencies and help keep our communities and roads safe. A study done last year reported Wyoming had the 5th lowest violent crime rate in the country. Last year Wyoming also had the fewest highway fatalities since WWII. There were 87 fatalities on Wyoming roadways in 2013. This makes last year the first year since 1945 where roadway deaths were less than 100.

  • During my first year in office, I created my Council on Impaired Driving through my 7th executive order. The Council has been pursuing an aggressive ad campaign and legislative changes to make a difference in people's attitudes about drinking and driving.
  • We lost 33 individuals to alcohol-related fatalities in 2013.
  • Thirty-three is 33 too many, but 33 is the lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities in over 30 years.

Wyoming Sheriffs and Chiefs, the Highway Patrol, our local and county officers – we appreciate all you do. Thanks also to the members of the Governor's Council on Impaired Driving for your hard work, thanks to the Legislature for strong laws, and thanks to the travelling public for heeding the messages about responsible driving.

Please join me in recognizing Wyoming law enforcement, the Council, and safety-conscious drivers.

Finally, I thank our state's emergency responders, fire fighters, and medical personnel – many of whom are volunteers. When help is needed, when medical care is needed, whether it's life-saving measures or everyday care for us and our loved ones, we are so glad you are on the job.

Amy Sorensen, a registered nurse at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, is an example. On December 30th Amy was on a commercial flight from Des Moines to Denver. She and another nurse attended to the captain of the plane who was exhibiting signs of a heart attack. The plane diverted. The pilot was treated at an Omaha hospital. Amy went straight back to work and she has lots of work to do because she is also a member of the Wyoming National Guard. Please join me in recognizing Amy and those who serve our medical and emergency needs. Amy, please stand.

These Wyoming people in uniform – giving their lives, risking their lives, saving lives – how can we say enough about people in uniform who put others before themselves in such ways? We can't say enough. Words aren't adequate. But we can remember, not just today, but whenever and however the opportunity presents itself to show our gratitude and pay respect.

2011 to the present

Looking back a bit at the last few years, we can see our state has navigated some hurdles:

  • recovering from the recession which marked the end of the last decade; and
  • rebounding from fiscal uncertainties that led to budget reductions of more than 6% last year.

Clearing these hurdles allows us now to enjoy economic growth, higher revenue than was forecasted, and resilient communities. As a state, we have made remarkable progress.

Achievements include:

  • a state energy strategy released last May and currently being implemented;
  • added support for local government, which I believe is a long-term commitment;
  • improved infrastructure from roads to schools, water projects to other facilities;
  • major broadband expansion – 700% growth in access for students last year;
  • a pro-growth economic climate, nurtured by outreach efforts, targeted incentives, and support for communities, public-private partnerships, and local economic development groups; and
  • more efficient government through merging agencies, consolidating technology services, reorganizing the Department of Health, and reducing the state workforce and state rules.

Regarding the workforce, in 2013 we have almost 300 fewer employees than we did when I took office. We are doing more with less.

Regarding rules, in March last year I asked agencies to review their rules with an eye to simplifying and reducing them. I asked for a reduction of 1/3 in number and 1/3 in length. I recognize that not all will be able to reach that benchmark but it's one to shoot for and it's worthwhile.

The rules initiative has been underway less than a year and already we see progress. For example, the Nursing Board revised its rules for the nursing profession to achieve a reduction of nearly 50% in length and 30% in number.

In December, the Department of Transportation repealed 10 chapters of rules and the Wyoming Retirement System Board repealed 7 chapters. These efforts are significant and show what can be achieved.

Simpler, fewer and more accessible rules are an ongoing exercise in government efficiency.

Success

From day one, I have continued to push on how Wyoming should be pro-business, support local government, build infrastructure, have more efficient government and advance technology. Our efforts in this regard have been paying off.

Wyoming is rated:

  • #9 by CNBC in its 2013 Best States for Business rankings;
  • #5 in Pollina Corporate's 2013 rankings of the Top 10 Pro-Business States;
  • #4 by the American Legislative Exchange Council for best economic outlook, 2013;
  • #1 or #2 best run state by 24/7 Wall Street in the last four annual rankings;
  • #5 for fiscal condition, for fiscal year 2012, in a January 2014 report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; and
  • #1 by the Tax Foundation in 2013 and again in 2014 as the most business friendly tax climate.

My first year in office we gained and, since then, we have kept the highest credit rating, Triple A, from Standard & Poor's.

We do not just look at our economic numbers – we look at how our work affects our citizens.

Wyoming has the 3rd lowest poverty rate in the nation, the lowest poverty rate in the nation as it relates to children, and the 3rd highest percentage of residents with high school diplomas per capita.

Wyoming ranks #6 for personal income growth in the 3rd quarter of 2013.

Our state unemployment rate remains low at 4.4% in December 2013, down from 6.5% at the end of 2010, and 7th lowest in the country.

From December 2012 to December 2013, nonfarm employment in Wyoming rose from 286,400 to 290,000 –a 1.3% increase. That is a gain of 3600 jobs.

We have energy development and agricultural production – lots of both – and we proudly have the cleanest air in the country. During my time in office, our permanent savings have grown from $5.3 billion to a projected $6.5 billion this year and our rainy day savings have grown more than $600 million to $1.6 billion. These savings have served us well.

On top of all this, we have been rated the state with the best license plate in the country, which we knew. The bucking horse and its rider against the mountain backdrop represent freedom, independence and natural beauty, and we are proud to have these images as emblematic of our state.

The great numbers our state has been posting show the benefits of living and working in Wyoming – there are many.

Growth

Nine days after I took office, in my 1st state of the state address, I talked about the importance of economic growth and diversification. Talk turned quickly to action, and we have, in fact, been growing and diversifying our economy. For example, we have growth in manufacturing, growth in data centers, and growth in other technology-related businesses.

For a third straight year, industrial employment grew in our state.

According to data collected by Manufacturers' News, Wyoming added 584 manufacturing jobs between October 2012 and October 2013. This was an increase of 1.7% in one year and a full percentage higher than the national average. Wyoming now has 1,182 manufacturers who employ 34,302 workers.

L & H Industrial and Searing Industries are two examples of this growing manufacturing sector.

A second generation Wyoming company, L & H has facilities in Gillette and Sheridan. It provides products and services for the mining industry and has operations in 16 countries. It was one of 23 success stories presented at the Business Forum last November.

Searing Industries provides steel tubing, pipe and other products out of its new Cheyenne facility. This too is a family business, growing and expanding from California into Wyoming.

Data centers – Microsoft, Ptolemy, Green House Data, to name a few – have begun to dot the Wyoming landscape. Wyoming's advantages – cool climate, low electricity costs, available space, and infrastructure – are hard to resist. I talked about recruiting data centers in my 1st state of the state address and look what has been achieved since we put our efforts into recruiting. Wyoming has been ranked as the #2 state among Emerging Data Center Hubs, 2012, by Business Facilities Magazine.

We build upon the success of those who were here before us – the real trailblazers. Last fall, the UW Business School and Wyoming Business Alliance/Wyoming Heritage Foundation, in a cooperative project, created the Wyoming Business Hall of Fame. The first people honored were W. Edwards Deming, J.C. Penney, Homer Scott, Sr., H.A. "Dave" True, and Clarene Law. All five are business trailblazers from Wyoming, and four of them were honored in memoriam.

Clarene Law, the fifth person honored, is here today. She has been a state legislator and long-time businesswoman in Jackson. Anyone who has been to Jackson on business or pleasure in the last 54 years has likely stayed in one of Clarene's motels and heard her signature greeting: "How may I help you?"

Clarene, you represent so many good things about Wyoming – the hospitality industry and community service being among them. You were the first president of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association. You served as a member of the Wyoming Business Council. Starting from 12 rooms at the Antler to 4 Jackson motels with 400 rooms now, you show the importance of tourism and the importance of growing businesses. You are a role model we can look to as we continue to work for growth and diversity in our state's economy. Clarene, please stand so we can recognize you.

We speak about our state rankings, successes and dynamic businesses not to boast but because such things benefit our citizens.

We speak about them because they mean more jobs.

We speak about them because fiscal stability and economic growth give Wyoming the resources available to address needs of our citizens.

A failing economy helps no one. A buoyant economy helps everyone. It's clear that programs for those who need help and the financial condition our state enjoys with a good economy are connected.

As a state, only if we are prospering are we able to add to what the private sector does, partner with the private sector, and help those who are not doing so well right now do better. In this way, we lay the ground for the future – more people leading a quality life and fewer problems that have mushroomed because they were not dealt with earlier.

Whatever the interests – homelessness, school safety, developmental disability, the elderly, deteriorating state facilities, for example – a state cannot address them in a failing economy. And that's the real significance of a strong economy: it allows us the latitude to do what we otherwise could not.

We are pleased when the state unemployment rate remains low.

We are pleased when we learn about another company expanding, relocating, or just getting off the ground in our state.

We are pleased when Wyoming records the 7th largest growth in the nation of international exports – 17% – in 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line: Wyoming is a strong state. The state of the state is strong and is getting stronger. Be proud of your work, be proud of Wyoming and its citizens, and let's keep moving forward.

To build on our state's strength, we must continue to save and we must continue to invest wisely.

Here is my view. If Wyoming was a stock to be sold on the market, I cannot think of a better investment. I am placing my faith in Wyoming, its businesses, its natural resources and most of all, its people. My budget provides the opportunity to invest, to bank on Wyoming.

The investment should include:

  • Increased support for local government;
  • Funding to complete a unified network;
  • Pay raises for teachers, U.W., community colleges, and other state employees;
  • Increased funding for school and courtroom security, for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities, and for upgrading state institutions and facilities.

Under my budget proposal, we can make this investment in Wyoming and at the same time continue to save money and keep spending flat.

My budget is a conservative one. It provides for $3.33 billion in total general fund spending, compared to $3.31 billion in my previous budget proposal.

If you look at a graph of the budget for the last decade, you see a growth line that went up dramatically. The budget doubled in that period. My budgets put an end to the upward trend, flattening the line. And I have not budgeted every dollar – I left more than $200 million on the table for your consideration.

We are in a great position to invest in our people, infrastructure, and communities.

With that in mind, I recommend $175 million for local government. This amount should be distributed by a formula that is tried and true versus something new. It is both the money and the predictability of the money that most help our local governments.

I recommend the funds needed, about $15.7 million, for a unified network. The unified network is the interstate highway of the 21st century, which gives our rural state the same technological advantages as urban states. It is vital infrastructure that will keep Wyoming competitive.

I recommend that the budget provide for employee performance. Some of the people in uniform we recognized earlier and who help protect us – the Guard, the Highway Patrol – are state folks with special skills and abilities that grow with years of experience and training. The same can be said of teachers and other state employees.

Our employees serve the public well not only because it's the right thing to do but also because they've learned the ropes. Retention is becoming an issue, and it makes little sense for the state to lose expertise the state helped develop. We are doing more, with fewer employees. We're seeing income growth in the private sector. It's been four years since state employees have had a raise, and it's time for one now.

As I have said, some other matters should not be left unaddressed. I believe this to be the case with respect to older state facilities, programs for the elderly, school safety and courtroom security concerns.

We should not put off till tomorrow these things that can be done today.

Therefore, I recommend funding for:

  • courthouse security,
  • juvenile justice,
  • school safety,
  • DD wait lists,
  • health programs, medical homes, aging and disability resource centers, 2-1-1, and immunization, and
  • the Life Resource Center, State Hospital, Veterans' Home and Boys' School.

The health recommendations are geared to improving access to care, prevention and more effective care, as well as allowing the elderly to stay in their homes longer. The recommendation for those with developmental disabilities is to reduce the wait list to 18 months.

With respect to the State Hospital, Wyoming Life Resource Center, Veterans' Home and the Boys' School, these facilities do not have big constituencies or lobbying power to pound on the door to ask for resources. But our state has taken on the responsibility of having them.

Where our state has stepped in, we have to step up and provide good care and good facilities. That's the Wyoming way. And my budget provides for them.

Outside of specific budget issues, I note the Employment First Summit took place just last week. This Summit, sponsored by the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, looks at opportunities for people with disabilities. The Employment First program is both positive and empowering.

Last July, I established the state's first homeless service coordinator – the purpose being to better coordinate services and develop a long-term plan to address homelessness in our state. We will continue the work on these and other initiatives.

Other priorities

We developed a state energy strategy. So too we need to develop a state water strategy. We have finished listening sessions. We heard what people around the state have to say about water development, water management, water conservation and protection, and restoration.

We have a top-notch water development agency. We have some of the best planners and engineers available working for the state. We have the information, the science, and the expertise at our disposal. We have the best water law which must remain intact. So, now is the time to put projects on the ground.

I talked about water projects in my campaign and in office. Water projects are expensive, take time, and the permitting is difficult. They are easy to put off until tomorrow, but I submit today is the day to begin. We must all begin to push for water projects – big and small, for ag, industry, wildlife and other purposes. It will be a great legacy of this Legislature to say we did all we can to protect Wyoming water. Wyoming water has served us and will serve us well. But we know individuals in other states are taking initiatives, looking at Wyoming – at Wyoming water.

Ladies and gentlemen, no one has better claim than Wyoming people to Wyoming water so it is up to us to act now for our water future. Energy, tourism and agriculture remain our 3 top economic anchors, and we continue to look for ways to promote these industries. In my budget, I recommend $100,000 for deep water ports and $50,000 for LNG exports. I have also proposed $15 million for a test center for carbon capture and sequestration research, beyond enhanced oil recovery. We need to develop commercially viable uses for CO2. We want to assure that we have a complete mix of energy sources in the future – and coal should be a big part of that future.

This is the time to push ahead with advanced technologies. We are number one, the national leader in exporting BTUs – to maintain that title we must also be a leader in innovation.

And U.W., thanks to legislative support, is moving ahead with innovation. In a previous budget, I asked for $15 million of funds to be matched by the private sector for energy research at U.W. Last month I travelled to Houston as I have in the past to secure matching funds. Today I can happily report that letters of commitment for all $15 million of matching funds have been received. This isn't just money, it is a recognition by the private sector we are on the right track.

As mentioned in a prior state of the state, agriculture is not only a huge economic driver, it helps shape our identity while supporting our wildlife and quality of life. Its value cannot be overstated. For ag to prosper, ag producers must have a product to sell. Therefore, I recommend a major increase in funding over the last biennium for predator control.

With respect to tourism, our number two industry, we have momentum – we have made great progress. Let's keep the momentum going. I recommend added funding for tourism, including funds for expanding marketing efforts to new markets.

Programs at the University of Wyoming and our community colleges are vital. They will provide opportunities for education for students who want to go into these 3 fields – energy, tourism, ag – and many more fields. We need to educate the next generation so these three industries and all our industries can remain strong. And, as I've said in the past, more opportunities for career and technical education are integral.

International trade opportunities are also a priority. Our state is not an island. It's not just us. We compete in a global market and Wyoming companies are developing and making products for here and around the world. We need to help those companies get their products out there everywhere.

Last year I visited Canada, South Korea and Taiwan to promote trade. The Tourism Office was an important part of the trip to Asia, and Wyoming companies participated in the Canada trip. Outreach efforts have begun, and they certainly should not end. We must continue to work for increased export opportunities for Wyoming businesses and products. The Joint Appropriations Committee added $350,000 for developing international trade. I support this.

Challenges

As a state, we are fortunate. We have much to be thankful for and we are. But there is more to do.

I continue to believe the Affordable Care Act is being badly implemented. It has created uncertainties. Some deadlines have been delayed, some exemptions have been granted, and the exchange rollout has been flawed.

What's happened thus far with the Affordable Care Act has not engendered confidence – far from it. So when the federal government tells states the program will function and the checks to pay for it will be in the mail someday, it is hard to put faith in such pronouncements. I want to see proof of performance.

We will see if the situation with the ACA ever rights itself or is improved upon – neither has occurred yet; therefore, I do not support the optional Medicaid expansion at this time. I recognize this is a position but not an answer to addressing the needs of over 17,000 of our citizens who may not have access to health care. I have mentioned some of my budget proposals for health programs, including medical homes and more money for aging and disability resource centers. Programs like these will be beneficial in our state. We will continue to look for answers.

In addition to HHS, we have to keep track of other federal agencies and their activities. I'll give a few examples.

The EPA. We seem to be having many battles with this federal agency. This regulatory agency recently decided to change our state boundaries with no notice to the state. Consistent with this heavy-handed approach, the EPA has also decided that some coal power facilities in Wyoming will be under the thumb of a federal regional haze plan. We have a good state plan for regulation of regional haze. I have asked the Attorney General and DEQ to review EPA's decision and lay out options. We want to preserve state primacy.

We are also closely monitoring EPA's rulemaking for new and existing power plants. Where federal agencies propose unreasonable rules, exceed their authority or pick energy winners and losers, we should challenge them.

As a state with a lot of public land, we work with federal land managers like the BLM, Forest Service, and others on land management plans. When issues arise, for example, failure to control the wild horse population, attempts to curtail grazing, or other poor decisions with regard to the Endangered Species Act, we will address them and do so directly.

I venture to say that we in Wyoming know and care more about the beauty of our state, its pristine environment, and land stewardship, than federal agency officials nearly two thousand miles away.

But in saying that, we must make sure we are doing what we should for our game – our fish – our wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our wildlife means much to our state, including revenue from hunting and fishing, recreation, and opportunities for viewing and enjoying the habitat and beauty of Wyoming. Wyoming sportsmen are an economic driver, and they recognize the value of having a strong Game and Fish Department. And we must recognize the value of game and fish not only to sportsmen but to each of us. If Wyoming wildlife is worth the watching, it is worth the supporting.

Our citizens are Wyoming's greatest resource.

I began my remarks today recognizing some of our exceptional citizens, and I want to end the same way.

I meet so many wonderful people when I visit cities and towns around the state. I get to see parents, teachers, students, community and business leaders, and representatives of local organizations in the places where they live and work each day. These are special times, and I always come back to the Capitol inspired.

I'd like to mention some of the many folks who were inspiring last year.

Parents I want to recognize Steve and Kristen Marler, parents from Natrona County, who received the National Adoption Excellence Award from HHS last year.

Steve and Kristen have three biological children. They have been foster parenting since 2008. They have adopted six children from the foster care system. They have also hosted approximately 60 foster children in their home over the years.

You are an amazing couple. Please stand so we can recognize you.

Outstanding Teacher/Outstanding Student

Mick Wiest is a high school English teacher at Fort Mackenzie High School in Sheridan. Mick has been named Wyoming's 2014 Teacher of the Year. He has been a teacher for more than 25 years, and his passion for teaching has never waned. It is said of him that "he loves to teach and he believes that all children can learn and learn by doing."

Also with us today is Michael Espy from Baggs (the Little Snake River Valley School). He won a national science award from DuPont and was selected as one of only 60 students nationwide invited to the White House Science Fair last year. He is the first national FFA member to receive the award. His project was to determine which organic ingredient produced the most methane gas.

Mick and Michael, thank you for being here. Please stand so we can recognize you.

Recognizing Mick and Michael today reminds us that we have to be attentive to education. We spend a great deal of money on education in Wyoming – rightly so – and we want to see results. Our kids, teachers, communities, and state deserve the best in education. From early childhood education through college completion, we must keep our focus on improvement, and we will.

The First Lady and the Marathon Team

I recognize my wife Carol for her work on literacy, the Eat.Read.Grow program, and the publication of Wyoming Firsts, a book for children, illustrated by Wyoming high school students.

I also recognize the team of 11 Wyoming runners, including Carol, who completed the New York City marathon last fall. The team raised $31,000 for the Wyoming Remember the 8 Endowment. The endowment supports programs to prevent alcohol use by high school students and to encourage responsible alcohol use by college students of legal drinking age. Thank you. For running for a worthy cause, I commend you.

Effective Advocates

We all have many issues that we have to wade through. We couldn't do it without the help of a lot of people.

George Parks, long-time Executive Director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, retired in January; and Marion Loomis, long-time Executive Director of the Wyoming Mining Association, will retire in April.

These two have been advocates for years, and have done so with honesty and integrity, assisting all of us to make better decisions. Thank you. You both will be missed. Please stand so we can recognize you.

Conclusion

What I have talked about today is a snapshot of a comprehensive budget which represents the work of many hands and minds. I have talked about aspects of that budget and about Wyoming people, successes and prospects.

Before I finish, I want to thank my staff, as well as the agency directors and their staff, for the hours and months it has taken, beginning last spring and until now when the budget I have recommended officially passes to the Legislature.

In Wyoming, we have inherited a great legacy to safeguard and to improve upon. We can do both. In Wyoming, we still believe in the American dream and want more opportunities for all our citizens. We can pursue that goal too.

We have challenges, to be sure, but Wyoming will address them head on. With a bronc, on our license plate we know how to saddle up and tackle problems. In the last three years, we dealt with issues such as wolves, Pavillion, flooding, landslides, wildfires – all head on. Our job is to meet challenges, and turn them to opportunities.

We have tough decisions ahead on health care, on education, on the budget matters. But none of us are here to find an easy road, but instead the right road, the road that says Wyoming will move forward for the benefit of our citizens today and for the benefit of future generations. This is not a game of Kick the Can. Decisions have to be made. We are reminded that the place where we face political risk is often the place where we make the decisions that need to be made.

We are in an enviable position and the time is right to invest in our state, our people, and our future. My budget makes this investment. I look forward to working with all of you, the members of the 62nd Wyoming Legislature, during this budget session.

May God continue to guide us in our work.

May God continue to bless Wyoming and America.

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