I’m sure Texas and Arizona could use $5.25 million that a Wyoming state senator wants to send them to help pay for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
What a noble gesture by Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), to come to the rescue of two states that are really struggling to make ends meet!
Keep in mind that the state of Wyoming has a $2.8 billion biennial budget, and lawmakers in Cheyenne are trying to find ways to spend nearly a half-billion dollar surplus, after putting about that amount of federal COVID-19 relief funds into state savings.
Yes, we have myriad budget needs of our own, including capital construction, school funding, suicide prevention, questionable dams, postpartum healthcare for low-income mothers, the yawning Medicaid gap, mental health resources, substance abuse treatment options and paying to defend all the Legislature’s unconstitutional assaults on personal liberty. And don’t forget, legislative leaders insist on spending millions of dollars to prop up the coal industry.
But Texas has to make due on a biennial budget of $188 billion, with a budget surplus of only $34 billion. Arizona’s 2024 budget is just over $17 billion, leaving it with a $4 billion surplus. Border security, which isn’t actually their purview, would obviously be too much of a hardship for these two states without Wyoming’s generous help.
Remember the good old days back in 2015, when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed he’d make Mexico fully pay for the border wall? He couldn’t get a deal done during his lone term in office, mostly because the Mexican government couldn’t stop laughing at him.
President Joe Biden orchestrated a commitment from Mexico last summer to spend up to $1.5 billion on border security, including modernizing ports of entry and enhancing screening processes of immigrants trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S.
Hicks forgot to thank Biden when he pitched his Senate File 166-Border wall and sanctuary city transport to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, which passed it 3-2. I’m sure it was an oversight, because the senator had to budget enough time to blast Biden’s “disastrous border policies [that make it] incumbent upon states to act.”
Hicks didn’t forget that border states need money to send undocumented migrants to “sanctuary cities” in friendlier states. Out of the $3 million earmarked for Texas and $2 million for Arizona, SF 166 would allow them each to spend up to $250,000 to transport the non-citizens. In addition, Florida would receive a quarter-million for that same purpose.
Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), who voted against the bill, questioned the transportation costs.
“I’ll be fighting for $22 million for a Laramie County school and I’m being asked to appropriate over $5 million for bus tickets?” she asked. The other “no” vote, Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), called the bill “ridiculous” and “offensive.”
“This state has problems; this state has issues,” Gierau said, adding that the same committee rejected spending $15 million to reduce the wait list for a comprehensive waiver for Wyoming citizens to get healthcare.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already sent more than 15,000 migrants by bus to Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
That includes about 130 people who were thoughtfully sent from Texas on Christmas Eve to Vice President Kamala Harris’ D.C. home. Some of the passengers, including children, were wearing T-shirts in the brutal cold, but were no doubt grateful to get out of Texas. Given how they were treated by the Lone Star State, I would be too.
During a Medicaid expansion hearing in the House Revenue Committee, the chair of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) sounded the alarm about a plane with 40 Guatemalans that reportedly landed in his city. He didn’t call them refugees, but did express concern because of “what we know about the border policy in the United States right now.”
Bear wondered how on Earth Wyoming could handle the problem of providing expanded Medicaid benefits to the Guatemalans. A Department of Health official assured him regardless of their status, Medicaid would handle their healthcare needs on an emergency basis, not through expansion.
It turns out the Guatemalans all had their necessary papers, so an emergency bus ride to Montana to dump them wasn’t necessary. I don’t know if Gov. Mark Gordon would have authorized the expenditure, but he does support SF 166.
“It has been difficult to do all that we wanted to do in that we didn’t have the authority and the funding, and so this legislation will be very helpful to us to continue to support these communities,” said Betsy Anderson, Gordon’s deputy chief of staff. She was the only person to testify in favor of the bill.
We already know what Hicks’ proposal to spend $5 million on border security would do. What could that amount do for Medicaid expansion, an issue the senator has adamantly opposed for the past decade?
Let’s walk through a special deal offered by the feds to provide an incentive to Wyoming and the other nine non-expansion states to sign up. Medicaid expansion would only cost Wyoming $22 million for the next biennium. An extra $5 million from the Legislature now would drop the net expense to $17 million over two years.
But wait, there’s more! The federal government would increase its share of the cost by 5%, which would provide Wyoming an extra $37 million for the biennium to spend anyway it wants. The Equality State could add about 19,000 low-income residents to the insurance rolls in the first year, while potentially cutting the yearly $120 million in hospitals’ uncompensated care costs by up to 50%. In case you need as much help with arithmetic as Hicks does, that’s a $22 million investment to reap a $157 million return over two years, to say nothing of the lives saved and human suffering avoided — at home!
That’s a considerably higher “bang for Wyoming’s bucks” than sending $5 million to states that don’t need it so that they can use refugees as political props and invest in 12th century security technology.
It would also spare Wyoming a great deal of embarrassment about its legislative priorities.
Remember the uproar in 2012, when a dozen legislators sponsored a “government continuity” bill so we’re prepared if the feds lost control of the dollar, the economy or social order? It called for a task force to study creating a Wyoming currency.
An intentionally ludicrous House amendment was added by Rep. Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) to buy an aircraft carrier for this landlocked state, create a statewide military draft and four branches of a state military establishment, and acquire strike aircraft.
But several pundits around the country didn’t get the joke. Mother Jones calculated the aircraft carrier would cost at least $6.2 billion, as if we would actually spend that much. “Its largest body of water, Yellowstone Lake, is frozen from December through June and sits in the middle of a giant volcano that stands about as good a chance as anything else at triggering the aforementioned societal collapse,” the magazine opined.
But the tech website Gizmodo recognized the story as tongue-in-cheek, noting the bill “calls for a whole list of batshit crazy things.”
“Maybe [the aircraft carrier] would be outfitted with toboggan rails and slalom F-35’s down the snowy peaks,” Gizmodo added.
Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m not so sure. If people in other states find out the far-right Wyoming Freedom Caucus now runs the show, we could soon be allowing other states to use the federal taxes we pay for their Medicaid expansion programs.
Wait a minute — since we haven’t expanded our program, we already do that. This must be that slippery slope politicians are always talking about, but only if they’re at the top of the hill tossing money to whomever they think is most worthy.