Gov. Mead delivered a 56-minute State of the State address on Wednesday that indicated he will continue protecting the coal industry, expanding international trade, and continuing work on his strategies for forest health, water, and energy.
Mead also pushed the Legislature to expand Medicaid, a policy he opposed for much of his first term until changing his stance last summer.
He said he will continue to support some of his signature policies, such as investing in local government infrastructure and broadband. In particular, Mead will continue to push against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by opposing power plant rules, the proposed rule for waters of the United States, and other EPA actions.
“EPA rulemaking under the Obama Administration has been troubling at best,” Mead said. “Wyoming’s fight against federal regulatory overreach won’t stop.”
Mead wants lawmakers to take a close look at the state’s fiscal policy, and provide $95 million to fully fund the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund. He described a new effort called “Wyoming Grown” which aims to persuade Wyoming’s young workers living elsewhere to move back to the state.
Mead asserted that the state has more than enough money to cover his supplemental budget proposal despite a downturn in oil prices. He anticipates the state will have $220 million to $240 million in unanticipated revenue for next fiscal year, on top of $5.9 billion available for spending in all accounts.
Mead’s $156 million supplemental request would add to the $3.6 billion in General Fund spending lawmakers have already approved for 2015-2016.
Mead anticipates the state can pay for his proposal with the impending return of $140 million in reversions — funds appropriated in past budget cycles that agencies did not spend. The rest of the money could come from investment returns and the Strategic Investments and Projects Account. Mead’s top recommendations include $21 million for constructing new passing lanes on busy highways, about $56 million for University of Wyoming projects, and $25 million for local governments.
Mead pushed the Legislature to expand Medicaid this year. “We’ve run out of timeouts and we need to address Medicaid expansion this session,” he said.
Mead reiterated his dislike for the Affordable Care Act, but said the state needs to consider that Wyoming taxpayer funds are supporting Medicaid expansion in states like Colorado and California.
“This was as vociferous as I‘ve heard him be regarding Medicaid expansion,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne).
Mead reminded his audience that his first act as governor was to join a lawsuit opposing the ACA, and until recently has led the charge in Wyoming to oppose Medicaid expansion. Proponents of expansion point out these actions have cost Wyoming citizens more than $117 million to date.
Mead did not take a position on which form of Medicaid expansion lawmakers should pass. In December the Joint Interim Labor Committee rejected the Mead-endorsed SHARE Plan by a single vote. Instead they favored an alternative plan drafted by Labor Committee chairman Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper) that would use health savings accounts to receive Medicaid money.
“My plan or yours, or something better — we fought the fight. We’ve done the work to find the best fit for Wyoming,” Mead said.
It’s likely some lawmakers will revive the SHARE Plan by introducing it as a bill for the full legislature’s consideration. Opposition to Medicaid expansion will come from grassroots groups and conservative Republicans.
Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) said he expected to hear Mead say more about education funding. The impending loss of coal lease bonus money will likely require a reevaluation of how Wyoming funds new school construction.
“With revenues tightening and the funding source we’ve been using for new schools going away, I think that’s an important discussion,” Landen said.
Other lawmakers pointed out that Mead didn’t go into enough detail about his plans for the next four years he’ll serve as governor.
“We talked a little bit about infrastructure and water projects,” Zwonitzer said. “If there is one thing missing, it is the direction the administration is going to take the next four years.”
Zwonitzer also thought Mead’s plan for building 10 small reservoirs in 10 years might be hampered by the slow process for permitting water projects. Mead will release his new water strategy Thursday — about a year after he originally announced the initiative in his 2014 State of the State address.
The Wyoming Democratic Party released a statement immediately following Mead’s speech. Party chair Ana Cuprill urged Mead to “take the lead to foster trust and cooperation within our state and with our Federal government,” the statement read. “Treat our environment and our citizens as something to be protected, not exploited.”
The minority party also pushed Mead to consider raising the minimum wage and support non-discrimination in the workplace. Mead did not take a position on those issues in his State of the State address.