Gordon launches legislative budget session with annual State of the State address

Feb. 12—CHEYENNE — In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Mark Gordon didn’t hold back in his criticism of the federal government, and the Biden administration’s handling of the border and environmental policies.

Gordon highlighted Wyoming’s strong economy in his speech, including wage growth and low unemployment. The state is on a roll, he said, but the future of its economy remains fragile under pressure from the federal government’s environmental policies.

Wyoming’s economy has grown stronger over the past four years, with a rising GDP and increased tourism to go along with fewer people out of work. However, the governor reminded lawmakers there are still critical issues the Cowboy State faces, such as rising property taxes and a shrinking workforce.

“When this administration started, Wyoming state employees were underpaid, with some even having to make ends meet with food stamps,” Gordon said. “That’s not conservative, that’s just cheap.”

Gordon called on lawmakers to “vote yes” on the 2025-26 biennium budget, which he said includes proposals to expand critical programs and services. These priorities include expanding the property tax refund program, funding the third phase of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership and investing in Mineral Royalty Grant (MRG) funds.

Criticism of Biden’s policies

Immigration is one of several hot topics for this election cycle, and Gordon said he stands with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in calling on the federal government to tighten border control. Some of Wyoming’s own deputies and state Department of Corrections officers were sent out “to provide needed and requested relief to Texas personnel.”

“It’s ironic that the Biden administration won’t secure our border, but he will press oppressive regulation on every industry in our state,” Gordon said. “Wyoming fights back to preserve our rights and our way of life using every legal and political resource available to us. And I will never shy away from our responsibility to stand up to the federal government.”

Environmental policies imposed by the Biden administration threaten Wyoming’s reliance on coal and other fossil fuel production for revenue, he said. Gordon included funding requests in the budget for the state to hire attorneys to defend Wyoming’s interests in court.

“Your vote for this budget provides the resources for Wyoming to continue to take that fight to the feds,” Gordon said.

At the same time, the governor remarked on the vast sources of energy available in Wyoming, including uranium and lithium.

“As governor, I have and I will continue to use the bully pulpit, my office, to engage friends and skeptics alike across the country, about the necessity of investing in fossil energy and mining natural resources,” Gordon said.

Property taxes

The governor said he realizes the rise and fall of property taxes isn’t set by lawmakers, since they are based on property valuation. But he said there are several bills on the table this session that aim to soften the blow for property owners, who have seen their tax bills rise rapidly in the last couple of years.

Gordon said he recognized that property tax reform is a “complex” issue because it affects local governments’ ability to fund schools and fix roads, but he still considered the matter of “pressing” concern.

“I have no doubt this Legislature will seek a balance that properly addresses citizens’ concerns about rising assessed valuations without leaving counties and schools high and dry,” Gordon said during his address.

He added he was “very encouraged” by the approach taken on this issue in House Bill 45. This bill, as written, creates a property tax exemption for single-family homes based on the prior year’s assessed value.

Earlier Monday morning, Wyoming’s legislative leaders said it shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to backfill losses in revenue from lower property taxes that only fund local government.

House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said he would only agree to do so as there is a time limit on it, and Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, agreed. This would give local residents a chance to see how the allocation of general funds to support counties affects funding at the state level.

“It helps the public see what the hit to the state is, and that that’s going to be a cost to somebody,” Sommers said.

Education, workforce

Wyoming’s state agencies and private employers have long struggled to recruit and retain workers amid a depleted workforce, and Gordon said this is why he asked for $30 million in the budget to fund the third phase of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP).

“You’ll remember we set a goal two years ago that Wyoming would establish a world-class approach to fostering a highly skilled, ambitious and qualified workforce,” Gordon said. “It’s taken a while to align, but WIP is now yielding results.”

This program is designed to form a partnership between community colleges and the University of Wyoming, and provides funding for job training and administrative support. Gordon said funding Phase III is necessary to ensure the program’s stability.

Gordon also worked with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, the Wyoming Department of Education and UW to launch Wyoming’s Future Learning Partnership, a pilot program that is designed around student-centered learning.

“We’re seizing an opportunity to fundamentally change how we educate students and creating the conditions so that every child can thrive in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “This budget funds schools and schools of choice fully for the next biennium.”

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Hannah Shields is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or hshields@wyomingnews.com. You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.

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