Making progress: Governor highlights positive movement
Casper – The Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous opening luncheon on Nov. 28 was headlined by Gov. Matt Mead, who noted that a number of topics have resulted in positive action for the state of Wyoming, and he sees continued opportunity in the ability of the state to prosper.
Mead commented that he has explored State of the State Addresses from past governors in the state of Wyoming, saying, “As we go back 20 years, 40 years or 100 years, governors are a broken record. We all talk about the same things.”
A look back
Gov. Warren’s State of the State from 1890 said, “While desiring to protect the treasury and prevent extravagance of every nature, we’re not required to descend into parsimony.”
Mead defined parsimony as extreme unwillingness to spend money.
For the territorial state at the time, Warren added, “It is notably true in the history of commonwealths that extravagance often follows a parsimonious policy and insufficient expenditures follow the unreasonable and reckless use of public funds. The golden mean between the two should be our guide.”
Mead emphasized Warren was clear to note that both excessive and insufficient appropriations can cause challenges for the state.
“We’re trying to find the golden mean for our state,” he commented, specifically referencing the budget for the state.
As he looks back over his time in office, Mead said, “In the decade before I took office, from 2000-10, the state of Wyoming’s budget more than doubled.”
While some of the expenditures were warranted for action like construction of a new prison, Mead said, “We can’t do that every decade.”
“Today, I’m pleased to report that, during my time in office, we have fewer dollars in state government and fewer people in state government,” he added. “We have a smaller government than seven years ago.”
Cuts made by the Wyoming Legislature in the 2015-16 budget session, Mead added, cannot be maintained. Because the Legislature made cuts during a supplemental budget session, those cuts have a doubling effect if they are retained.
As he presented his budget, Mead noted that those cuts to the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) and the Wyoming State Fair would decimate the agencies, and he said, “I’m not going to make those cuts.”
Specifically, Mead allocated an additional $500,000 for brand inspectors in the WLSB and increased funding for the Wyoming State Fair to $1 million over the next two years.
Mead released his budget on Nov. 30, and the Joint Appropriations Committee will begin their review of the budget in mid-December.
Aside from the budget, Mead said several legal victories have been won, including a decision made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redefine the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation, an action that swept Riverton into the reservation.
“When EPA made this action, they notified me after they had redefined the boundaries,” Mead commented. “They didn’t just redefine the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation, they redefined the boundaries of our state.”
The Wyoming Attorney General litigated the case and won in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“They asked for an en banc hearing,” he said. “We won that hearing.”
While the case can still be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court level, it has not been appealed yet.
“The state boundaries will remain as they are, and the reservation will remain as it is, as well,” Mead emphasized.
However, he noted that the issue wasn’t just about clean air, and the consequences of such an action extend beyond water. For example, on the boundary change, a convicted murderer and child abuser appealed his conviction by the state of Wyoming because the crime was committed in Riverton, which would mean the state did not have jurisdiction.
“I applaud the AG’s office for their work,” Mead said.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is also a priority issue for Mead, and he noted that wolves and grizzly bears are both species of recent success for the state.
“We wanted to see wolves and grizzly bears delisted,” Mead said. “But to me, this isn’t just about the individual species or states having management of species. This is about our wildlife.”
“The federal government doesn’t own wildlife. They belong to Wyoming, and there is nobody better equipped to manage wildlife in Wyoming than we are,” he continued.
The Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals decided in favor of Wyoming on wolf delisting unanimously.
Next, Mead targeted grizzly bears, and Wyoming is involved in five of six lawsuits related to the delisting decision. The sixth case is in the state of Illinois. Currently, it is anticipated that the Illinois case will move to Montana.
Sage grouse is the third species Wyoming grapples with day in and day out, and Mead said, “The Secretary of the Interior is working on amendments to resource management plans for sage grouse. We believe changes are needed.”
“We believe Wyoming’s list of de minimus activities, including agriculture practices should be included,” Mead explained. “We believe in an adaptive framework, and we’re working with the Department of the Interior to have the opportunity to make some of these changes.”
“All of these things are under the ESA,” Mead said.
He continued, “It would be interesting to figure out how much time and money the state has spent on the ESA in 10 years.”
For example, Mead explained that Wyoming has spent $40 million on grizzly bears alone over the last decade.
“My belief is that the ESA needs to be improved,” he said. “Since the ESA came out in 1973, less than two percent of species have been delisted. A fair portion of those were taken off the list because they were wrongly put on in the first place.”
With a less than two percent success rate, change must be made.
Bipartisan efforts have been made by the Western Governors Association, which resulted in a bill in Congress that will hopefully make the necessary changes to improve the ESA.
“With changes, we could avoid a lot of the problems we have had in the ESA itself and in enforcement,” Mead noted. “We need to change and improve.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.