Governor Mead speaks to open the 2016 Governor's Business Forum. (Wyoming Business Council)

Two days after the presidential election, Gov. Matt Mead opened the 34th Governor’s Business Forum saying the change in Washington didn’t alter Wyoming’s need to look inward for a new economic path.

“We cannot say that our plan for economic development is ‘let’s wait for commodity prices to get better,’” he said. Nor, he added, can it be “let’s wait for a better president.” In that vein Gov. Mead announced a new initiative — called ENDOW, an acronym for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — to spur economic development and draw new industries to the state. Mead specifically mentioned technology, research institutions and value-added efforts for coal and other minerals as opportunities for the state to diversify.

Later that day, Liz Cheney, Wyoming’s next delegate to the U.S. House, struck a different note as she painted an optimistic picture for those hoping that a Republican-held Washington D.C. will provide the revitalization the state needs. “We have everything we need in Wyoming to prosper and grow,” she said. With a Republican Congress and the leadership of president-elect Donald Trump, the state could flourish.

“We are being strangled by the federal government and it is so heartening to see somebody come into the White House who has openly proclaimed his support for fossil fuels on the campaign trail,” Cheney said.

As signs of hope for a revitalized fossil fuel industry, Cheney referenced the transition team appointed by Trump earlier in his campaign, a group of people she said “care very deeply about the issues that matter so much to us. And those issues have to do with the Environmental Protection Agency, they have to do with our fossil fuel industry, Obamacare.”

Who will serve in president-elect Trump’s cabinet still remains a matter of speculation. However in September he appointed Myron Ebell, a renowned denier of the scientific consensus of climate change, to lead his transition for the EPA. Energy analysts say it remains unclear what a reversal of President Obama’s climate policies will mean for the coal industry.

At other times during the conference participants continued eyeing the budget problems that have confronted the state since the energy downturn began, and addressed the long-running question of whether Wyoming can diversify its economy or will remain dominated by natural resource extraction industries. Podcasts of key conference talks are available through Wyoming Public Media.

Though Tony Ross (R, SD-4, Laramie), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was not there “to advocate for taxes,” he suggest that the Legislature take another look at a past plan for examining potential new taxes. That plan, called Tax Reform 2000, was drawn up during Wyoming’s last big bust, from the late 90s and into 2000. That plan was shelved when bust turned to boom, as Pete Simpson wrote for an introduction to a WyoFile forum on the subject.

At a session on revenue, the focus was on a projected shortfall of nearly $157 million for the state’s current two year budget. Hosted by the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, that discussion was dominated by debate over budget cuts versus seeking new revenue. New revenue would come through higher taxes on the energy industry or new taxes on currently untaxed commodities like alcohol and tobacco.

The next interim meeting of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee is on Nov. 18 in Cheyenne. At a late September meeting in Buffalo, the committee advanced few bills that would generate revenue for the state, with the exception of a bill for a state sales tax on large online retailers like Amazon.

At a panel discussion called Recalibrate, Focus and Proceed, the president of Northwest Wyoming Community College talked about community colleges as economic drivers while Mark Doelger, a member of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, spoke about the need to increase marketing of the state’s energy resources internationally.

Indeed, with the exception of Cheney’s speech and the keynote address — a reflection on the election provided by Mike Allen, White House correspondent for POLITICO — there was little emphasis on the forthcoming Trump administration. As Allen said, “this week is more about reflection than reaction.”

Diversifying Wyoming’s economy, cutting budgets or examining the tax code are questions that will be addressed by a legislative session that begins just ten days before the presidential inauguration. Whether a thoroughly Republican Washington D.C. will have an effect in Cheyenne remains to be seen.

 

Governor Mead spoke further on Trump and Wyoming to the Associated Press on Monday. Read it here through the Casper Star Tribune.   -Ed.

 

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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