CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming has enough savings to take time and be thoughtful about future spending cuts, particularly for education, amid declining revenue from fossil fuels, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday in his second annual State of the State address.
Yet Gordon promised not to dither amid what he described as efforts by other states to boost renewable energy sources at the expense of the coal, oil and natural gas industries.
Wyoming produces energy more safely and with more concern for the environment than anywhere else in the world, said Gordon, a Republican.
"And yet our industries are still discriminated against, maligned and decried as dead. Well, not on my watch," Gordon said to applause and cheers from a joint session of the overwhelmingly Republican Wyoming Legislature.
The address by the first-term Republican kicked off a four-week legislative session dedicated primarily to the state's next two-year budget cycle, which begins July 1.
Budgeting has been tight for several years now amid a decade-long downturn in revenue from the state's once-booming natural gas industry and declining demand for coal to generate electricity, a result of low natural gas prices.
Last year was especially tough for coal. Two of the biggest coal mines in the U.S., Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr, shut down for over three months while its owner, Milton, West Virginia-based Blackjewel, went through bankruptcy and sold them.
Gordon's proposed budget would keep state spending essentially flat after tapping a state savings account to avoid running up a K-12 education spending deficit.
He supported Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow's interest in updating the state's school finance system as mandated by the Wyoming Supreme Court in the 1990s, suggesting a set of priorities known as the "educational basket of goods" had grown out of date.
"It was crafted when Amazon was only a bookstore and the Spice Girls were all the rage," Gordon said.
Gordon called for one-time bonuses for state employees, whose pay has gone up little and whose numbers are down compared with a decade ago.
"We should be thinking about keeping the people who know what to do and how to do it," Gordon said.
Other priorities of Gordon's include planning to protect big-game migration routes, improving water-supply systems like one in Goshen County that experienced a costly irrigation tunnel collapse in 2019, and suicide prevention.
Yet defense of fossil fuels was the predominant theme of his address.
In January, Wyoming and Montana asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the state of Washington's denial of an environmental permit for construction of a shipping terminal that would enable more overseas exports of Powder River Basin coal, Gordon noted.
"Know this: Wyoming will always advocate for our industries. whether it be to protect against unconstitutional restraints of trade, or in their endeavors for cleaner, more dependable and more affordable energy to our nation," Gordon said.
Gordon also listed additional funding for promoting Wyoming's coal industry, which supplies almost half of the nation's coal for power plants, as a priority.
"Time is of the essence. We must act now if we are to stop coal mines from being closed," Gordon said.