CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead weighed in with optimism on the expected issues today during his State of the State address, including the proposed fuel-tax increase, budget cuts, technology and the Affordable Care Act.
"I am pleased to report the state of the state is strong," he said early in his speech. "That's a simple but strong observation."
He said tourism and energy have bolstered Wyoming's economy, even while other states' economies falter.
Even with strong input from those industries, state spending has remained a concern. A large portion of Mead's attention in recent months has gone to overseeing the budget. After a Consensus Revenue Estimating Group forecast showed Wyoming benefiting from fewer natural gas dollars than expected under extremely low prices early in 2012, Mead asked state agencies to prepare for 8 percent cuts. Mead said he took the cuts on an agency-by-agency basis, but final cuts average out to be above 6 percent.
"Unlike the federal government we will continue to live within our means," Mead said, adding Wyoming wouldn't double its budget every two years over the next decade to follow the federal example. Even so, Mead has asked legislature for pay raises for many state employees who have for several years dealt with frozen wages.
Wages of state employees may not be the only thing to trend higher; Mead used his speech as a vehicle to once again press for the 10-cent fuel tax increase he hopes to see pass in legislature.
"In effect we subsidize out-of-state drivers and I believe we've subsidized them long enough," Mead said, referring to the fact that other states' fuel taxes are significantly higher than Wyoming's.
He added that raising the fuel tax makes sense because the Department of Transportation doesn't have enough operating funds to maintain Wyoming roads and "It's a conservative principle to pay as you go rather than creating a debt you have to fix."
"We need action, not more words," he said. "We are not Washington, D.C.; we are Wyoming, we get things done."
One thing Wyoming has excelled in getting done recently is recruitment of high-tech companies. With the arrival of the NCAR-Wyoming supercomputer, Microsoft and various small-to-medium cloud computing companies, Wyoming is well on the path to diversifying it's economic base.
"Tech is taking hold in Wyoming," Mead said.
Another thing taking hold, whether Wyomingites like it or not, is the Affordable Care Act, he said.
"There is no magic wand waving ... that will extricate us from the Affordable Care Act," Mead said.
Because of this, Mead has asked for funds for the mandatory Medicaid expansion that should put about 7,000 new children on Medicaid in the state. But he has asked, for now, to deny the optional expansion that would draw in about 30,000 new Medicaid users. Mead said he hopes to use the next year to prepare for the changes coming in 2014, including the federal exchange and tailoring the law as much as possible to fit Wyoming.
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