CHEYENNE — Governor Mark Gordon emphasized his commitment to Wyoming’s energy economy and its fiscal health in his 2021 State of the State address.
Maintaining the state’s quality of education is the most important issue facing the Legislature during its general session, Gordon said Tuesday.
Gordon, in delivering his “state of the state” address to a joint session of the Legislature, told lawmakers the state could no longer rely on traditional sources of revenue to support education.
“We have relied, for years, on a funding model that is no longer sustainable,” he said. “The handwriting is on the wall. The can we kick down the road every year is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”
He asked the Legislature to think carefully about the balanced budget he presented to them and to position Wyoming for the future when addressing K-12 education funding.
“We’re entering more frugal times and we will have to continue to temper wants and emphasize needs,” Gordon said. “Success will require action from individuals, businesses and our state government. That’s what I believe this session is all about.”
“What we do today can mean that the Wyoming we love remains. These next few years will be pivotal for Wyoming. And I intend to do my best to make sure our citizens are confident in their future.”
In his speech the Governor highlighted Wyoming’s resilience and the state’s continued economic improvement from the pandemic and the subsequent crash in energy prices. He also spoke of the importance of Wyoming’s tourism industry, his support for the state’s agriculture sector and efforts to encourage economic diversification.
With the slump in the state’s mineral industry, particularly in coal production, funding for the state and its schools has dropped sharply. The school funding bill making its way through the Legislature would cut millions of dollars in how much the state gives to its schools and proposes new taxes if necessary to maintain funding.
Gordon endorsed a consolidation of early childhood learning programs, now found in four separate state agencies, into two agencies, the departments of Education and Family Services as one of the things the Legislature could look at.
But Gordon urged lawmakers, as they look at resolving the funding problems facing schools, to look at the issue more broadly than just one of revenue shortfalls.
Gordon emphasized the need for the state to retain a “broad energy portfolio” that includes both fossil fuels and renewables. He called for a consistent and clear policy for future wind and solar development to ensure Wyoming reaps the economic benefits from expansion of those industries.
Finally, the Governor challenged the Legislature to examine the state’s K-12 funding model that is no longer sustainable.
“This is far more than a budget issue,” he said of education funding. “I want our stakeholders and our communities to be involved in establishing a plan and vision.”
Gordon thanked the state’s residents, particularly state employees, health care workers and teachers, for their hard work to keep the state moving during the worst of the past year.
“Today I can say, with pride and confidence, that the state of our state is strong,” he said. “Not because our economy is as robust as it was a year ago, for that’s certainly not the case…It is because we are the people we are: weathered, tested and resilient,” he continued. “We are a stubborn people, unwilling to concede during tough times. It is that resolute spirit that is our greatest asset. That, I believe, will see us through these times.”