Gov. Matt Mead (R) used his sixth State of the State address Monday to challenge the Wyoming Legislature to expand Medicaid, resist deep cuts to social programs and to continue what he calls fiscally conservative investments in highways, cities and counties despite a projected budget shortfall.
His own budget proposal, submitted in December, would require no further cuts, he said. Instead, it relies on expanding Medicaid to bring in federal dollars and help offset growing healthcare costs. It also called for dipping into the state’s $1.8 billion rainy day fund to maintain capital construction and other projects.
“We continue to build the largest rainy day fund in the country while continuing to pretend it’s not raining,” he told lawmakers.
Gov. Mead’s challenges to the Legislature come after the Joint Appropriations Committee in January declined to embrace several key components of his budget proposal, and Medicaid expansion in particular. While the legislative panel is contemplating some spending from the rainy day fund — approximately $200 million — its own preliminary budget work includes broad cuts to state programs, including spending for K-12 schools.
The JACs approach places an unnecessary burden on residents, cities and counties, Mead said, and it threatens to hobble ongoing investments that tend to pay off in the long term. If the Legislature again declines to expand Medicaid it forces an additional $33 million in cuts elsewhere compared to his own budget proposal.
“I wonder,” said Mead. “Are we willing to cut more than $33 million from literacy, tourism, local government, senior centers, and early childhood development, just so we don’t have to expand Medicaid?”
Some estimates place Wyoming’s budget shortfall through 2018 at $600 million, due to declining oil and natural gas prices, as well as decreases in the state’s coal output. Wyoming’s revenue and budget spending had essentially plateaued in recent years. But the continuing losses in the state’s mineral extraction-dependent economy requires spending cuts, according to legislative leaders.
House Speaker Kermit Brown, Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger, House Speaker Pro Tempore Tim Stubson and House Majority Whip Hans Hunt issued a joint statement following the State of the State:
“While our budget shortfall is serious, it is not an insurmountable obstacle,” they said. “We will tackle this challenge just as we always have — with thoughtfulness, a willingness to compromise and an eye on the future.
“We appreciate Governor Mead’s remarks this morning. We look forward to working with him in the coming days.”
Gov. Mead switched his stance against Medicaid expansion in the fall of 2014, after what he describes as “fighting the good fight” against the Affordable Care Act. The Legislature, for the second time, declined Medicaid expansion in 2015. Wyoming has essentially turned away some $220 million in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid under the ACA — Wyoming taxpayer dollars that are instead going to other states to offset ever-increasing costs of healthcare, he said
He acknowledged entrenched philosophical opposition among lawmakers — and himself — to the ACA. But said the new national healthcare policy is so far along that it is impossible to turn back, even if a GOP candidate does take the White House in 2017.
“You don’t like my plan, what is the Legislature’s solution to this issue?” Mead said in his address.
Rallying to expand Medicaid
Monday afternoon, Gov. Mead spoke to a rally of Medicaid expansion supporters at the Highlands Presbyterian Church. The rally attracted a broad selection of odd bedfellows, from those in the faith community to progressive organizations, a large contingency from the Wind River Native Advocacy Center and members of Wyoming’s business community. The rally was organized by the Wyoming Association of Churches.
He told rally attendees that when it comes to expanding Medicaid, he must follow the advice he received when he first became governor: “When you become governor, you’ve got to be governor for all of the people of the state.”
“What we’re doing to not expand Medicaid is taking $33 million out of the general fund. So it’s a compounding problem.”
He said the 20,000 people in Wyoming who would directly benefit from expansion “are not somebodies, they’re us. … If that doesn’t reach us in our hearts, it should reach us in our heads. We’re already paying for it.”
Former legislator, author and Pastor of Highlands United Presbyterian Church Roger McDaniel told rally goers that expanding Medicaid “is not just a political issue, it is a spiritual issue.” As a matter of scripture, he said “When there is no vision, the people perish. The budget this governor put together is visionary.”
If one reads what the Joint Appropriation Committee’s did to the governor’s budget, “it will make you weep,” McDaniel said.
In the video clip below, Gov. Matt Mead speaks at a Medicaid expansion rally, and challenges the opposition’s argument that it’s risky for the state of Wyoming to accept federal dollars: