PINEDALE – Gov. Matt Mead, along with Deputy Chief of Staff, Tony Young and State Attorney General, Greg Phillips, arrived in Pinedale Monday morning for a tour of the county, presentations and multiple meet-and-greets with elected officials and the public alike.
At 9 a.m., Pinedale Town Hall welcomed Mead, Young and Phillips for a morning discussion. Various Sublette County elected officials, including Pinedale Town Council members and the Sublette County Commissioners, were in attendance. The governor began his talk by discussing the upcoming budget, which, not surprisingly, has been affected by the recent decline in natural gas prices.
“Every day, I begin my day by looking at natural gas prices,” the governor said.
When Mead began making budgetary decisions the price of natural gas was $3.25 per thousand cubic feet. Since then, it has continued to drop. Due to the decline, Mead has asked government agencies to cut 8 percent over two years.
“Relative to other states, we’re in a good position, but things are going to be
different from what they were in the past decade,” Mead explained. “My message is, I think we’re in a tough time, budget wise, for the next couple of years.”
The governor has been searching for ways to increase natural gas use, specifically the Pathfinder Wind Farm Project in Goshen County. If constructed, the 3-gigawatt wind farm will increase state consumption of natural gas by 50 percent, but in terms of national and international use “that’s hardly a blip on the screen,” Mead added.
The governor insisted, however, local governments would not be subjected to cuts because, he believes, investing in local government will yield a return.
“Getting money out at the local level is the best decision to make,” he said.
Sublette County Commission Chairman Joel Bousman expressed appreciation for Mead’s choice to support local governments and communities.
Sticking to the topic of natural gas production, Mead said the issue of ozone troubled him, especially in this area.
“It is not acceptable to me to have ozone in Sublette County. I am pro oil and gas development, but I am not into having to keep your kids in the house because of an [ozone] warning,” Mead stressed. “I will tell you the companies that work in this part of the state have continued to meet with me to work through this, but it is an issue that has not been resolved.”
Mead lauded the efforts of production companies and citizens who have dedicated themselves to finding a resolution to the problem, and he emphasized he is committed to working towards a solution.
The governor said he was also concerned about closing rural post offices that, in a vast, sparsely-populated state like Wyoming, can add an extra burden to citizens trying to do something as simple as send or receive mail.
“Closing a post office can mean the difference between a 10 mile and 50 mile drive,” he said.
The Pony Express was an instrumental part of creating the West, he explained, and it would be a shame to see local offices close.
There was one issue that pleased the governor – the movement toward state control over wolves.
“I’ve tried to be very active in getting control on federal issues because so much of Wyoming is federal land. If all goes well, we will have a [wolf] hunting season, and a vast majority of the state will be considered predator status.” He said
The governor then turned the conversation over to Phillips, who discussed two lawsuits the state is currently involved in.
The first is a lawsuit filed by residents who are against the recent redistricting proposal. Phillips explained since Wyoming became a state, “redistricting has been a constant issue.” The plaintiffs, Phillips said, are arguing the new redistricting plan did not follow county lines close enough and, therefore, resulted in an inefficient representation of voters. Phillips added the state was planning to file its response to the lawsuit sometime this week.
The second lawsuit challenges the Affordable Healthcare Act, better known as “ObamaCare.”
When Mead took office, Phillips explained, he joined other Republican governors who opposed the act. Currently, 26 states are against ObamaCare, and Wyoming has contributed $5,000 to the cause.
“Our position, most people think, will prevail,” Phillips said.
Mead added he hopes the opposition wins the case outright, because, if the bill is upheld, it will add an additional 20,000 people to Wyoming’s Medicaid rolls.
“I hope we win the lawsuit … Medicaid will take hold of all of the budget,” Mead said.
With time waning, Pinedale Mayor Steven Smith discussed the downtown master plan, and asked about how to increase economic development. The governor said technology, specifically increasing broadband, is instrumental in boosting the economy. He was pleased to announce the state has increased connectivity by 257 percent the past twelve months.
“[Broadband] is a great equalizer, but if you’re not where it is it doesn’t help,” Mead said.
The governor added he is trying to coerce the Wyoming Department of Transportation to allow private companies to lay cables along state highways. Mead cited a small business that relies on internet access but also desires to stay in rural Wyoming.
“I believe people, more and more, are not looking for a metropolitan area but a quality of life,” he said. “We need to be as business friendly to these people as possible.” For the complete article see the 04-20-2012 issue.
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