Monday, February 11, 2008

Governor pushes new energy approach

People concerned about jobs, housing, health care

Governor Dave Freudenthal today launched the 2008 Budget session with a State of the State message that exhorted legislators to meet funding commitments already made, but avoid expanding spending.

And in a bit of candor, the governor said Wyoming citizens have the uneasy sense that the state’s leaders aren’t concerned about the same things the people are — housing, jobs and the cost of living, health care, and protection of the environment.

The governor said his proposal for meeting the state’s obligations over the coming biennium includes “not a single budget cut.” That’s a point that sounds good until we understand which programs, particularly human services, must try to get by with very small or no increase in revenue. Failure to grow in Wyoming’s current economy — with the cost of living up seemingly up across the board — is the same as a budget cut when meeting the needs of the same number of people.

In the speech, the governor noted that the state has increased its savings rate to $.40 of every severance tax dollar while providing ample funding to education. Legislators applaued the comment about education funding. They have worked for years to meet a Wyoming Supreme Court mandate to assure that every child in the state has access to a decent education.

Healthcare surprise

A pilot health care project centered around a public/private partnership involving state government, working families, and employers will be supported by the governor. He offered few details other than to say it will emphasize personal responsibility and targets funding already set aside to expand the KidCare CHIP program. The idea surprised the Wyoming Healthcare Commission, which was not asked to review the idea proposed by Natrona County state Sen. Charles Scott.

How the commission views this development remains in question. It is too bad to see a volunteer board that has worked hard to develop considerable expertise in healthcare circumvented by legislators working behind the scenes. Perhaps for that reason, the governor went out of his way to commend the work of the commission, which will have several bills before the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee later today. (These are House bills 31, 38, and 47.)

The governor did not brief the commission about his plans to support the pilot project. The measure apparently will start in the Senate where it will go to the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. Funding could come from the money set aside to expand the KidCare CHIP program to extend insurance coverage to the parents of children whose very low family income qualified them for the program.

The ESPC supported the KidCare program expansion. That expansion has been delayed by the state’s inability to get the federal government’s approval for spending federal Medicaid funds to extend the insurance to parents. Too bad such a good idea got caught up in the fight between President Bush and the Congress over reauthorizing the KidCare program. Now it’s worrisome to see the state funds already appropriated for the program targeted 3for other uses.

Energy – a dose of conservation

Conservation of energy got a boost from the governor. Freudenthal noted that governments at all levels are paying and will pay more for energy. The best way to control these costs, he said, is to be more efficient.

Perhaps we’ll see greater support for green building requirements on public buildings following this conservation initiative. A Monday press release from the Governor’s Office noted that he “emphasized that state government must recognize that the marketplace for energy is changing, and should become more energy efficient in government buildings. He also asked the Legislature to consider allowing the State Loan and Investment Board to use a portion of local government money to encourage energy efficiency, and to authorize $500,000 in funding for energy audits for local governments.”

This welcome rhetoric continued with governor’s advice that we all need to take seriously our stewardship responsibility to the earth and to Wyoming.

The state will have to transition to carbon-constrained environment, the governor conceded, because the “boys with the money have set the rules,“ — the nation’s financial institutions are no longer so excited about funding conventional coal-fired electrical generation.

To help sustain Wyoming’s fossil-fuels-based economy, the governor asked for favorable consideration of the Judiciary Committee’s carbon management bills. This legislation will establish the legal framework needed to develop a carbon sequestration program in the state.

“Talking about planning for growth in Wyoming will require all state residents to set aside their traditional values and stereotypes, and to talk honestly about what Wyoming can be in the future,” the governor’s press release noted. He said he supports a measure to limit subdivisions. Senate File 11 would grant counties the option to regulate subdivisions with lots greater than 35 acres (up to 140 acres). Echoing comments from his own planning conference last month, Freudenthal pointed out that rural subdivisions often fail to pay all the costs of their development and instead ask the public to finance water, roads, and fire protection with money from the state or counties. Go ahead and use your property rights, but pay for it yourself, was his message.


The governor renewed his call for property tax relief for elderly residents. He said there should be no means testing because people at that age are too proud to come in with tax returns. He also supports a Revenue Committee bill to value sour gas for tax purposes, a measure the ESPC also supports. And he expressed support for a Department of Revenue proposal to use two methods of allocating sales tax revenues to local governments to recognize that some areas lost more with repeal of sales tax on groceries than others.


We’re pleased to relay the governor’s observation that learned two main things at his planning conference last month:

(1) people want solutions to come from the bottom up;

(2) they are worried about what lawmakers are thinking about the future – lawmakers’ concerns are not theirs, i.e., people are concerned about affordable housing, environmental protection, health care, and jobs.

The governor said he plans to bring his “Envision Wyoming” project to the legislature before the end of the session.

And speaking from what could have been an ESPC script, the governor said that the public is concerned not so much with the content of decisions, but HOW THEY ARE MADE.

Prayer Service

Speaking of poverty and the poor, the Wyoming Association of Churches again sponsored the Legislative Prayer Service in the Capitol Rotunda. The association has staged the ecumenical services in the past to urge legislators, who so often have their ears bent by the rich and powerful, to remember the poor.

Scheduled participants in today’s service included the Rev.Rebekah Simon-Peter Of Bridgeworks in Rawlins, the Rev. Tim Trippel of Worland, Re. Warren Murphy of Cody, and the Rev. Robert Schmidt of Cheyenne. Several legislators were set to take part including Rep. Rosie Berger of Big Horn, Rep. Bernadine Craft of Rock Springs, Rep. Pat Goggles of Ethete and Sen. Robert Fecht of Cheyenne.