We are Building a Thriving Wyoming
By Gov. Mark Gordon
As Wyoming’s economy and her communities continue their recovery from the impacts of the global pandemic, the state is now faced with a new challenge. How do we best utilize the additional stimulus funds the federal government has appropriated to help Wyoming regain its footing?
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are one-time infusions that can help build a stronger, more resilient Wyoming, and they should be treated as such. We have an opportunity to use these dollars to shape the future of our state, and it’s important to maximize the opportunity before us.
I have outlined an approach to help Wyoming survive the initial impacts of COVID-19 and identify what can be done to better drive to a future where all of Wyoming can thrive – this is my Survive, Drive, Thrive plan.
Last year, when Wyoming received $1.25 billion as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, I worked with the legislature to get those funds out the door to help Wyoming residents respond to the pandemic. I’m proud Wyoming spent more per capita on business relief than any other state. We ensured our businesses had access to emergency funds in order to survive those challenging early months of the pandemic.
While we were given a tight timeline to spend those original CARES funds, we have three years to spend this second round. We have time to identify needs and strategize deployment of these dollars, with an eye on the long-term benefits for the people of Wyoming. Our great-grandchildren will be paying for this government funding. They also deserve to benefit from it.
Wyoming will receive approximately $1.5 billion from the ARP, which is to be distributed by the executive branch. Additionally, $182 million is going directly to cities, towns and counties in Wyoming, $347 million is heading to K-12 schools and higher education institutions and even more funding is heading directly to agencies to provide assistance to childcare centers, behavioral health clinics, community health centers and other vital community resources.
As part of the “Survive” phase, we used remaining CARES funds to address challenges arising from the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. I directed these to be used to: stabilize staffing levels at Wyoming healthcare facilities, provide tax relief for businesses, increase employment activity in the state’s oil and gas industry, stimulate the tourism economy and expand state parks camping, shore up the meat processing industry, enhance broadband access for virtual work, healthcare and learning opportunities and expand substance use disorder treatment options and youth crisis services.
We can now pivot to the “Drive” and “Thrive” phases of Wyoming’s recovery. I am committed to setting Wyoming up for long-term success, not merely balancing the budgets of today’s operational activities.
I have prioritized that ARP funds be directed towards health and social services, education and workforce training, and economic diversification and development. My office provided a status update to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee last week and will be updating the committee again in October. Final proposals will be introduced in December, following the release of my biennial budget.
I assembled a strike team of state leaders to engage stakeholders and identify the most impactful short-, medium- and long-term uses for these funds. A key goal identified by the team is to retain and attract working families to the state. This includes addressing challenges in affordable housing and child care.
A second goal is to strengthen Wyoming’s economy and revenue streams. The Wyoming Business Council is taking input from stakeholders to identify new opportunities. Among other goals are: better alignment of higher education institutions; further expansion of broadband access; addressing healthcare challenges including improving access to mental health resources; expanding Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy and tackling infrastructure projects.
Going forward, we will continue to be transparent on how ARP dollars are spent – just as we are transparent with the work we do on the state’s budget and have been with the CARES funds. It is important these one-time funds be clearly labeled and treated as such. I have continued to champion the idea of simplifying Wyoming’s budgeting process. This includes a move to one checking account and one savings account so all citizens can clearly identify where funds are originating from, and what they are being used on.
Wyoming is at a crossroad and we have the opportunity to shape our future. I have worked to right-size government; to make it more efficient to best serve the state’s people. These times, and these decisions, have been hard, but let’s take this opportunity and the time afforded us to decide where we should invest in order to achieve the future we imagine.
With vibrant communities, good paying jobs for our children, a growing economy and a low cost of living, Wyoming’s future can be bright. However, we must be thoughtful in how we approach today’s opportunities.