Wyoming State of the State Address 2007
By Stateline Staff
CHEYENNE, Wyo., Jan. 10 - Following is the prepared text of Gov. Dave Freudenthal's (D) 2007 state of the state address:
Thank you. Thank you. Please be seated.
Told me right off I'm supposed to check the microphone, but I see that Senator Larson is in the front of the room so he has to stay awake today.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, fellow elected officials and members of the 59th Legislature, members of the judiciary and, most of all, the citizens of Wyoming, greetings, and I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you today.
Before I commence my remarks, there's just a few folks that I would like to recognize.
We are graced today with the representatives of the Shoshone Business Council in their status as a quasi-independent governmental entity within our state. We are joined today by Ivan Posey and Arlen Shoyo.
Where are you guys? There they are. Help me greet them.
Before I introduce some representatives of the Wyoming National Guard, I want to commend the class that just came in this session because one of the things that they asked to be briefed on out of a list of things that they were given was that they be briefed on the deployment status of Wyoming's men and women in the National Guard. I commend you for that. It is an incredibly important issue and I appreciate your interest.
I want to recognize a couple of folks from the fine group that represents Wyoming in the Wyoming Guard. One is Senator Airman Berlinda White of the Air National Guard who has -- just last weekend was named the 2006 Airman of the Year. And most of you know her because her husband is Kevin, and he is a member of this body.
Berlinda, part of that is a recognition of your service to the country and the other is a recognition of your patience for living with Representative White.
We're also joined by Specialist Jason Webb of the Army National Guard. He was chosen by the 960th Maintenance Company as Soldier of the Year, Specialist Webb.
As we recognize the Wyoming citizens currently serving in war zones, it is appropriate that we include in that list Sergeant Christopher Walsh who is the son of our own Representative Tom Walsh, and he is currently deployed with the Army National Guard in Iraq. And Sergeant Walsh was selected as the 1st Platoon's NCO of the Month and was described in the award as a mentor by his fellow soldiers.
On behalf of the people of Wyoming I think we should express our appreciation to all of those who are deployed overseas.
I'm delighted to be here today. This is a session that begins upon a note of goodwill and hope, and it is one that used to be referred to as the non-budget session and hopefully we will address a number of non-budget issues.
But in an effort to extend the bipartisan cooperation, the cooperation among the branches, an agreement can be reached I think very quickly, by the judiciary, executive and the legislative branch and nearly everyone else in this state that this is finally the year that we should modify the oath of office that each of us is required to take.
I spoke with the Chief Justice recently and I asked him how many of these he does. He says he doesn't keep track, he just keeps administering the oath until he's told to sit down. I think the judiciary would join us in that effort. There's been bills offered before this body before. And while we are always perplexed by the oath, I think the issue with the oath is that it is not one that communicates what really goes on and it is not one that is contemporary with the times.
And I noticed a number of folks after the inauguration of the five elected officials asked me what that oath was all about. I think if we are in the process of doing that crystal moment of democracy when we take that oath, then if it is a moment that is not understood by the citizens, then, in fact, we need to think about the words that we are asked to say and the commitments that we make in that oath. So I hope that you will look at that.
The second comment as I begin my speech today is that it may appear to you that Hot Springs County has taken over the state. As you know, I'm from Thermopolis and that's Hot Springs County. We're also graced with a Chief Justice who comes from Hot Springs County. Representative Walsh traces his roots to Hot Springs County. And if that isn't enough of a crucible of wisdom for all of you, I don't know what to add.
I want to touch very quickly on a whole range of issues that are essentially nonbudget issues that I think need to be addressed in this session and ones that I think harken back to our true purpose here, which is to recognize that this is a 40-day nonbudget session. There are clearly budget matters that are going to be in evidence and I will talk about those later. I would note that as we speak it is my understanding that the new "goldenrod" is coming out so we are free to discuss it.
There are three issues that I think are primarily federal issues that we're going to be called upon to address in some form or another this session. One of those is wolves. I would advise you that the current status of that is that we do not have a written proposal from the Department of Interior. We have a series of questions that have been submitted to them. We have kept the legislative leadership and the appropriate committee chair fully apprised of the developments, and we will continue to do that.
I'm not in a position today to say that there will be a bill recommended to you this session, but I would ask that as we move through the session that you keep some vehicles alive in the event that we are able to reach an agreement, that we are able to respond to a most vexatious issue for the state.
The issue of abandoned mine lands, I think that we owe the congressional delegation, particularly Senator
Enzi, a great debt of thanks for what they have accomplished on that AML funding formula. But I would recommend, as I did in a memo which was bidded to the body on Monday, that we delay any particular action with regard to the funding until next session. We don't have an immediate need to address that issue. There are a number of details that still need to be worked out from the federal level, and it might be an appropriate issue for you to consider for interim study, but there is no sort of urgency. There is delight that we're going to finally get some money out of the abandoned mine lands program, but I don't think that money is going to arrive that quickly.
There may be a need for some slight language to allow us to continue doing the current abandoned mine lands project, but the real money on this funding formula doesn't show up for a year, actually about 18 months, so I think it is appropriate for us to, as the carpenter would say, on this issue we can measure twice and cut once. And we have time to do that.
The third issue that I believe is largely a federal issue that has some impact on us is the question of immigration, and not so much that we are responsible for control of borders, but I think we need to review our system and establish a framework by which we would deny benefits to individuals that cannot demonstrate an appropriate status to be in this country.
I would alert you that the experience in Colorado is that states can take some steps but there are certain federal restrictions on our capacity to limit access to those benefits, and we will need to stay within those. But it is an entirely appropriate response from the state to a federal inability to perform their task. But I think that it is appropriate for us to look at the issue.
Now I'm just going to run through a list of state issues that I know will be before you.
First is eminent domain. Eminent domain is an issue that has attracted a great deal of attention. I would urge a degree of caution with regard to the extent to which you choose to modify that. I think it is appropriate to modify particularly the early portions of the eminent domain activities in a way similar to what we did with regard to split estate, and that is to require some form of good faith negotiations and notice.
I would be very cautious about extending those changes too deeply into the question of compensation. There may be some appropriate changes that should be made, but I think we need to be careful that eminent domain does not become a vehicle for selected individuals to dip into the revenue stream of the energy industry versus its proper function which is to make sure that people obtain fair market value for those rights, the property rights that they give up.
And I have some sympathy on this issue. In December my oldest daughter who is getting married is going to get married on the place where I grew up in Thermop. We went back to look for a place where -- the new owners allowed us to do this -- went back and looked for a place where they could have the ceremony.
The place that I grew up, we were crossed by a number of power lines, a number of pipelines. And they clearly have an effect. There clearly is -- even today there's a visual effect from the existence of those lines.
The question is what do you compensate for that? The world would be better, I expect, if we stuck somewhere close to the notion of fair market value. In the absence of relying on fair market value, we end up with a difficult task for both those who are negotiating those activities as well as those who might ultimately have to litigate it. And I would encourage a bit of caution, but I would also encourage there are some places we can strengthen the hand of the landowner.
There will also be before you some legislation which would make permanent the Travel and Tourism Board that has been in existence in the Wyoming Business Council for several years, but it has been in existence as a footnote and not as a substantive part of the legislation.
I appreciate the prior legislative indulgence of allowing me to do it as a footnote. I think that it has, not by virtue of anything that I did but by virtue of the performance of that board, has demonstrated that it is, in fact, a viable part of our economic development program and we should memorialize that in the statutes going forward.
I hope that this body will make permanent -- and I believe it will, there are bills there to do it -- to make permanent the removal of the sales tax on food. That is an issue that enjoys broad public support. It is an issue that I think we could resolve in this session and resolve it quickly, and I would commend that legislation for your consideration.
GOVERNOR FREUDENTHAL: The other issue related to tax relief is one that has not enjoyed unanimous support, and that is this question of property tax relief. I think it is clear that given the change in the general fund and budget reserve account numbers that will be floated out to you today, that the drop in those two accounts happens to be, oddly enough -- I was perplexed -- turns out to be exactly 250 million, which is the amount that I had previously proposed for tax relief. I assume that is a coincidence on the part of the Legislative Service Office, and we will let it stand.
I had the sense that that proposal wasn't exactly going to take flight when I made it earlier, but I think there is still room for us to think about a targeted tax relief based on an expansion of what used to be called the old Homestead Exemption. The cost of that bill is probably between 36 and $38 million to provide some relief. It is not one that has -- it is not an idea that has enjoyed great support in this body previously.
I would urge you to take a more serious view with regard to the impact that the increase in taxes are having on those with a fixed income.
It is also one of those bills that lawyers disagree about as to whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. I believe that ultimately when you have a good disagreement between lawyers, the proper course is to go ahead and pass it and if somebody wants to challenge it, we will let the courts sort it out. I'm proud to be a lawyer, but lawyers each have an opinion and it seems to me that from time to time on the close calls we should go ahead and pass it.
I believe that this is a session where we ought to give some thought to extending the life of the Office of Consumer Affairs over at the Public Service Commission. When that was originally passed four years ago, it was passed with a sunset provision. That sunset provision does not trigger this year, but since next session is a budget session, it seems to me that it is an appropriate item for us to consider during this session.
The Office of Consumer Affairs -- Office of Consumer Counsel has been an effective advocate over time. I know that it has not always been an advocacy which has been welcomed by the regulated utilities, but I think it is an advocacy that has been welcomed by the citizens of the state.
It is also my hope that this session we can finally pass an open container bill. I have watched this now die by one vote and then turn around and die by another vote. It passes one house and dies in the other. I think as a collective group that the leadership of this state needs to recognize that there is very real wisdom in saying you don't need an open liquor container in a vehicle. And I hope that this is the year when we can all join together, pass that legislation and make a statement on behalf of this state that drinking and driving under any guise is not something that we're going to accept in the state. And I hope that you will pass that bill and that we can have the grandest signing ceremony that we've been waiting five or six years to get done.
GOVERNOR FREUDENTHAL: We have debated back and forth, both in committee and sometimes on the floor, the question of the appropriate response to sexual predators, particularly those who prey upon children. I am not entirely satisfied with the outcome of the committee. It's a two strikes and you're out bill. If I was doing it, I would do a one strike and you're out bill. But I've been around long enough to know if I can get half a loaf, I should take it.
I would commend that and some of other sexual predator bills that the Senate judiciary committee has worked on would hope that you would consider passing those and making those part of the legal framework in Wyoming.
One of the things that campaigning does when you're out talking to people is you find an incredible number of people who in different ways have been victimized by pedophiles, who understand the nature of this issue in a most intimate and painful way.
I will tell you that in our life before I became U.S. Attorney it was not an issue with which I was familiar. It was something that I would read about in the newspaper. During my time as U.S. Attorney, we prosecuted a significant number of those cases, particularly those cases on which you had Internet jurisdiction. And it changed my entire view with regard to this. Instead of it being an issue that is resolved or rests in, you know, Los Angeles and New York, it is an issue that exists in this state. And our citizens are entitled to every bit as much protection from the State of Wyoming as other states afford to their citizens.
So, please, take a look at those bills. I believe it has been -- it is not what I want, but please pass it because it is a start on protecting the citizens of this state.
Another issue that is under consideration relative to children and the status of our youngest citizens is this question of child care. Child care is an issue that was debated long and hard during the last legislative session, and it was debated over the summer and into the fall throughout the campaign.
I believe that it is appropriate to talk about it as a non-budget matter because what is being discussed is in the context of funding which has already been set aside. Child care is an important issue to families. It is an important issue to children. It is an important issue as it relates to our investment in K through 12 education.
And I learned over the summer and last year, it is an incredibly important issue to employers. It is a remarkable thing when you can have a group of employers gather, as they have in Riverton, and underwrite and participate in the creation of a child care facility, a facility that is built not simply as a civic contribution to the community, but a facility that is built in recognition that this state has the opportunity to improve and enhance its work force by getting more serious about child care.
I understand that it is a difficult issue. I think that the proposals as they have been reworked hopefully address some of the concerns that were expressed with regard to whether or not the State was, in fact, trying to raise people's kids. We're not out to raise people's kids as a matter of state policy. We are out to create an environment in which child care can be successfully delivered to the broadest number of citizens in this state.
It is good for the families. It is good for the children. And it is good for the economy of this state. And I hope that you will follow through and implement that legislation into a programmatic meaning this year with the legislation that you passed in prior sessions.
I also want to talk a bit about a couple of constitutional amendments that are under consideration. One is the constitutional amendment to allow funding for tribal entities. I hope that you will consider placing that before the voters. We are in this peculiar position where part of the citizens of this state, namely the tribal members residing within the Wind River Indian Reservation, we are not able to provide the same assistance to their governmental entities that we are to cities and counties.
And I think that it is appropriate for us to recognize that the -- that both of those tribal entities should be a participant in the allocation of state funds, and the only way we're going to do that is by amending the constitution.
The second is some constitutional amendments that are being considered with regard to allowing the state to put money into coal conversion facilities. I do support the development of coal conversion facilities in this state. I'm not prepared to support the state placing its funding into that process. And let me explain why.
Over the last year -- and a year ago I didn't think it was too bad an idea. But over the last year in my office, I have spoken with any number of people who have the key idea for how do you convert coal and how do you do it in an environmentally rational fashion, and that means dealing with some of the pollution issues but also converting coal either to a form of synthetic natural gas or to diesel or a number of other liquids. Each of those discussions usually ends up with the individual saying, "And this will only work, Governor, if the State gives me a hundred million," or 300 million or whatever it is.
I'm convinced we as a state are not equipped to pick which technology is going to be the technology of the future in the sense of our investing equity dollars directly in the construction of a plant. So I do not support the constitutional changes that would allow that.
What I do support -- because I believe that it s incredibly important that this state become a leader in this question of coal research and particularly into the technologies that will convert coal to synthetic natural gas or to diesel or some of the other options. What I do support is a proposal which hopefully will be offered to this body which would recommend that we enhance the budget at the School of Energy Resources to do research on these questions.
If you think about our position in coal, we benefit greatly from the national SO2 standards. That benefit that drives our market erodes depending on which way these coal conversion technologies go. And if we do not do research and develop ways in which our coal, of which we have an abundant supply, can be used in the context of both liquids and in more what are called clean coal technologies, we will find that 20 and 25 years from now the market for our steam coal would have been significantly eroded.
I would argue that our proper role as a State is not to pick a plant manager or a company and underwrite it, but it is to do fundamental research on the two basic areas that restrict or could potentially restrict the development of those technologies in our state.
One is there are some characteristics of our sub-bituminous coal which are different from the areas where most of this research has been done, has to do with Btu content as well as the amount of moisture that's in the coal.
And the second is that these technologies have been developed largely at lower elevations. You saw our congressional delegation successfully put authorization into the national energy policy to build a conversion plant over 4,000 feet. That is important. But it hasn't been funded.
So what we need to do is to focus on what are the technological bottlenecks that apply to our coal research, and that includes not only surface plants with gasification underground and concentrate on research in those areas so that 20 and 30 years from now you don't confront what was confronted in Rock Springs and a variety of communities in this state, which is when the railroad shifted from coal to diesel, Union Pacific laid people off just before Christmas, and it had a serious effect on our economy. And that is a transition that I don't want to see future generations have to deal with, so I would encourage you to fund some of that research.
I also -
GOVERNOR FREUDENTHAL: There's one study effort that I want to talk about and then two that I'm going to request your assistance on. One is the results of the study with regard to the Livestock Board and brand inspectors.
I would encourage you to look seriously at their recommendations. Those of you who are
new to the body, you can have a number of the other members explain to you the difficult history of that issue. They appear to have arrived at a compromise among the various interests which will be submitted to you.
It does one thing that I'm a bit nervous about but which I think we have to do which is for the first time we will actually commit general funds to the support of that entity and that agency which is not something we have done in the past. I did do it by essentially gubernatorial flex authority when it was broke. It is a significant step, but I think it is one that is appropriate to support the agricultural industry.
There are two study efforts that I'm going to ask you to participate in going forward. One is a hard look at community colleges, both in terms of mission, governance and funding. It is an issue that I think is one that is appropriate for us as a state to step back and decide what we see as both the mission, how we're going to structure the governance, particularly the relationship between the colleges and the Community College Commission, and then I think the question of how you're going to fund them.
And there are a number of bills that are being submitted to the body. I don't believe that any of the proposals are prepared to become -- or as they say, they're not ready for prime time. I think we need to spend a year on an effort similar to what we did on the Hathaway Scholarship with a group of legislators and business people sitting down and saying, "Where do we want to go with this?"
Because it is an important decision. And it is my belief that the community colleges have a great role in this state and a role that needs to be particularly expanded in the concept of work force training. They should be the primary delivery entity for that.
I don't support some conversation that has come out about maybe we should set up a series of technical schools around the state. I think that's illogical, inefficient and would turn out to be a burden for others going forward. So I hope that you will consider that legislation to create that study effort when it comes forward.
The second is a look at the long-term funding questions of transportation, particularly
highways. There are two chunks of that. One is an effort to fund a particular study that relates to I-80. I-80 in terms of funding difficulty is sort of the 800-pound gorilla in this state.
But the second is a proposal which I have asked the chairman of the transportation committee to forward, which is to create a task force to look at the long-term funding options so that we can create something that is both stable and reliable, both for the state in terms of our keeping up with the current needs, but also for the industry in terms of their knowing that, in fact, there will be funding available.
Again, this is an area in which there are a multitude of ideas floating out there. We need an effort over the next year to organize those ideas and to begin to develop some consensus about which could be considered. It is appropriate that we do both of these efforts this year because ideally they would be significant input into the structuring of the budget which would be submitted to you at the next budget session.
You know, we now move to the part of the discussion which has to do with the budget, and I want to talk a minute about why I think the budget is such an important document.
Ultimately a lot of the stuff we talk about is simply that, it is simply conversation until such time as we actually decide to pass either a substantive statute or to allocate funding in a particular direction.
So at its core the budget is one of the most fundamental policy documents that we have in this state. It expresses both our concerns about the current welfare of our citizens and also is the form by which we give expression to our hopes for future generations. And so we end up thinking about the budget not so much as a policy document, but we end up thinking about it as a document that is, all right, what is in it for my county, what is in it for my school district, what's in it for me, what's in it for my political party, when, in fact, the overall budget question is really what is in this budget both for current generations and future generations.
There is something to the biblical admonition that your heart is where your treasure is. If you follow those documents, you will know what is important to us.
To set up sort of the discussion, I would argue that there are about three ways that people, citizens, look at the budget and look at our funding circumstance.
One is a very interesting conversation which I've had with a number of people and had one yesterday in which the person suggested to me that, you know, what we do is if we put all of that money in the trust fund. Then we can become essentially trust fund babies and we won't have to pay any taxes. And we have created the impression in the public that somehow if we just save enough, they will never have to pay any taxes.
The discussion came up in the particular context of my suggestion that at some point in time we're going to have to think more seriously about whether or not we need to have an additional fuel tax in order to support highways. The particular person was complaining to me about the state of highways, so I thought, "I will try this idea." The response was no, if we put enough money into the trust fund, not only will we not have to pay highway taxes, we can do away with some of the taxes we pay.
The hard facts are that the permanent mineral trust fund, the income from it today accounts for less than 15, sometimes less than 8 percent of the total general fund expenditures. The highest percentage that general fund dollars have ever accounted for in terms of the state budget has been about 23, 24 percent during some prior times in our history.
So we need to understand that it is -- it is a view held by some in the citizenry that what we're really trying to do is to become a set of trust fund babies. I would argue to you that has two down sides. One is it puts people in a position they're not spending their own tax dollars. As a consequence, it is easy to make proposals.
And the second is that it fails to account for the fact that if you're going to build this state, you're going to have to invest and just not save.
Then there's another set of folks. Friend of mine got into a discussion with my two daughters and I in which, because of their demographics my daughters are alarmed about what the future of Wyoming is going to be for them and what is their opportunity to come back here to live and to raise a family.
And this friend of mine as the discussion goes on -- he's of a more senior age, a bit like me, close to retirement -- and his basic point to them was, "Well, that's all real good and I want to encourage you to build a future, but don't rock my boat. I've got my life planned out. Roughly I know what year I'm going to retire. I know where I'm going to live in Wyoming. I certainly want to encourage you to build a future but don't do it in any manner that distorts the pleasant life I've outlined for myself."
I would argue the problem with that theory is that it negates the fact that as we grow older, we are dependent upon the success of the next generation. If you're going to have an economy that will support me and support many of us in this room as we grow older and there will be key services available, we're going to have to have an economy that invites young people and young families to come to this state and that invite young people and young families we want to retain in this state.
For if we do not have a climate in which those who seek not just to hold onto the wealth they've got, but seek to create wealth -- if we don't have that climate, we will simply become a retirement community with the vestiges of an energy industry that has moved on.
For young people or those who have a young view of the world -- they have a much more let's invest, let's go out there and let's build these roads, let's build those schools, let's get this done because their perception is what is their future going to be like? And their future is one in which they hope to build both their own wealth as well as to emphasize the role of their families.
The third group that I encounter, both in this building and when I'm out around the state, are the folks who say, "Look, what we really need to do is to figure out how do we spend every penny we've got and we need to spend it on operating expenses today."
And their argument is that, look, the healthcare system is broke and a state this rich ought to be able to take care of us. I don't believe there's any one of you as an elected official who has not had conversations with your constituents that start out, "You've got a billion dollars, why don't you...," and then you can fill in the blank. I see some of you have had those discussions. And sometimes what they fill in the blank is really interesting.
But the point I want to make is that it is our job to strike a rational balance between all of those groups and all of those interests, that our job is to figure out how do we save some money, how do we invest some money and how do we spend part of it on operating the government in order to take care of the current needs.
And I would argue that in a supplemental budget that the emphasis should be on investing in one-time expenditures. If you will take a look at the budget we submitted, there's about, I don't know, 78, $80 million out of all of the money allocated that is for operating expenses that are for continuing expenses. The rest of it is intended to do things like fund the state prison expansion that we're trying to do in Torrington, add money to highways, add money to airports, build water projects, talk about the Wildlife Trust Fund. I think that is the appropriate use of these supplemental dollars.
Now, as I came in today I checked, and even though the revenue figures have changed, the sky is not falling. It is still up there. It is still over our head. And I want to place these numbers in context.
If we had gathered here last year and in my closing comments I had said to you there will be half a billion dollars available for your expenditure next session, not a one of you would have believed it. Frankly, I wouldn't have believed it. We had been, I think, very generous in that budget session in terms of agencies and their operation. I think we all felt like we were probably looking at a relatively minimal amount available during this time.
So everybody -- then things move along and as we were preparing our budget, our instincts was that there
was probably going to be somewhere between 450 million and maybe 5 and a quarter.
Then the revenue estimates came out from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, and the Ouija board that they use is different than the one I use and they ended up saying there's $812 million. $812 million, a staggering number, one that did not seem supportable, but one to which we adhered in preparation of our budget.
We're now in a position where we say, "Oh, my heavens, we may only have half a billion dollars available for supplemental expenditures." Half a billion dollars. That is a phenomenal number. And it is a number that I think more than justifies the conclusion that the sky isn't falling. We have got some budget things that we need to address. We will have to trim our sails a bit from other expectations. But I don't think this is a time for us to become timid about an investment course that we have launched ourselves on in the last four years.
Hence, I would encourage you to continue and to consider seriously a funding level of $162 million for the highway department. We arrived at that number based on what they said they thought could be bid out and successfully deployed before the end of the biennium.
There's another 18 million that can go to airports, and it is well within the current budget figures.
Also you will see there's a significant recommendation for capital construction at the community colleges. It is capital construction tied directly to the question of work force development. It is not capital construction that supports much of any other purpose.
I'm interested in the discussion that surrounds that. It is one of those discussions where people say, "Well, we ought to do that, but if we're not going to do it in my county, I'm not going to support it. If we're going to do it in one of those counties that's got money because of their tax base, than I'm not going to support it because, frankly, they ought to pay for it themselves."
I would argue to you that is an incredibly narrow view with regard to our circumstance with regard to work force. If you have, as I have, traveled the state or been around your own district, one of the most significant complaints you get from people -- and I got some yesterday from folks that were in -- there is no work force. The ultimate cap on our ability to grow this state is going to turn out to be the availability of people with skills to do the work that needs to be done.
I have companies who meet with me on a regular basis, talking about significant projects in the state, and they end up saying, "Look, Governor, what is the state doing for work force? If I can't build this project here because you don't have the work force, I will build it in Utah. I will build it in Colorado. I will build it someplace where I can bring it in at a price that I can afford."
So I would encourage you not to think about work force development in the context of what is in it for me, what's in it for my district, what's in it for my county, but think about it in the context of what is in it for the state.
This simple illustration I think makes the point. Take a look at the city of Wheatland and think about Wheatland without the Basin Electric facility. Think about what those plants bring to the long-term stability of the state. Coal markets can vary, but people seldom shut down power plants. And the same is going to be true with regard to coal conversion plants going forward. And I would encourage you to think about the state's future and our ability to have those facilities in this state as you go forward.
And if nothing else, think about the merchant or the construction guy or the driller in your own community who has said to you, "I can't find anybody to hire." If we don't find people to do the work that needs to be done to build this state, we're not going to succeed.
There's also an issue I think is related to that and that's this question of how much funding goes to the local governments. And that has been an issue that this body has struggled with for many years. As most of you know, I do not like the State Loan and Investment Board process in that I think you're asking -- now, I want to preface this. This is not a view shared by all of the elected officials.
But from my point of view, we're being asked to make decisions that are probably not within our proper purview. We are comparing the merits of a road in Lovell with one in Wamsutter with one in Gillette, and I'm not
sure that we're the right people to do that.
I encourage you to look at greater direct funding to the cities, towns and counties of this state. We have the resources available. We are not in a position where we can't do it. I think that it is appropriate for us to be cautious and to trigger that flow of funds based on some status that you could set up. I would use the revenues -- or the actual assessed values that are being filed with the Department of Revenue, but something that gives you assurance that the money is going to be there. You can call it a soft cap or a secondary distribution, but either way, we need to address the fact that communities need money. Everybody agrees to that. We end up in this argument about what is the proper way to get to it.
If you are, as this state prides itself as largely a conservative Republican body, a conservative Republican body would surely endorse the concept that the decision should be made by the government that is closest to the people. I think direct allocation is how you get that done. I've not had much success with that argument in the past, but I'm going to continue to make it because I believe there's a way to structure it that protects the fiscal integrity and your concern with regard to the available future revenues and at the same time recognizes that they should make that decision.
Housing is an additional issue that has been studied and it will continue to be studied.
There's a proposal in front of you. I know that there is some concern about that proposal. I think that the issue deserves serious consideration as to whether or not there can be unanimity within this body on the bill. If not, then I think you need to seriously consider placing it on your agenda for the next session and for the purposes of interim study.
You know, we talk about work force and we talk about its importance to the economy, but I want to tell you a wonderful story about what work force training really means to the individual. This is a story brought to me by a contractor up in Jackson recently at the contractors convention.
Contractor comes up to me and says, "I've got to tell you this story." It is a wonderful story about one of his employees. She was a single mom with two children living in Gillette. She got hooked up with Our Futures Our Family and their CDL training class, and she was in the spring class of 2004.
Now, this class was a partnership between Our Futures Our Family and the Wyoming Contractors Association. She graduated from the course. This employer hired her and last year, using her Grade A CDL permit, she cleared $48,000. We took somebody who was in incredibly difficult circumstances, provided the training, provided the work force development, and not only is this employer incredibly proud of this employee, but this particular employee has set about revising her life.
It has turned into a great win-win circumstance. A woman who was not previously able to provide for herself and her family makes $48,000. She pays her own way, bought a car, takes care of her own expenses, picks up her healthcare and has time to spend with her children. If that isn't the definition of win-win, I don't know what it is.
One of the issues that's important in this is that while we talk about work force and we talk about it in its grandest terms, it is really about one person at a time being given the skills to take advantage of the remarkable opportunity that is presented by the work force in this state. Somebody making $48,000, we're not going to see them at the Department of Work Force Services -- at the Department of Family Services. Somebody making $48,000 has time to take care of their kids, has the time that is so essential for the role of parenting that is important to us.
One of the interesting things that happens in that context is that this individual now has health insurance. And healthcare is an issue that all of us know, both from our campaigns and our own experiences, is an incredibly difficult issue. If you notice over the last month, if you're like Nancy and I, you got a whole slew of Christmas letters and you sent some out yourself. Think of how many of those Christmas letters contained discussions about the health issues of people that you know and love and you recognize how incredibly important healthcare and its availability is in this state.
And in the context of our role as elected officials, it is one of the most difficult issues we have because we have not found -- we have not found a silver bullet, in spite of the efforts of this body, in spite of the efforts of the Department of Health, and in spite of the efforts of the Healthcare Commission.
Our steps have been slow, but as Abraham Lincoln said, "I may not be walking real fast, but at least I'm not walking backwards," and I think that is what we're doing with regard to healthcare. If you think about where we started a few years ago, we started by expanding the care available to our most vulnerable citizens through Kid Care. We expanded that and provided healthcare for folks with children who didn't have any before. Last year we expanded it to include about a thousand people who were parents of people who qualified for Kid Care. Over the years we've expanded our availability of our services to the elderly, and there are another set of proposals that will be submitted to this body intended to help address the elderly and the citizens who have some of the toughest health problems that we deal with.
There's also a suggestion, and I think it is one that merits consideration, that we look hard at this question of how to keep the elderly at home. I'm amazed as you travel the state, and particularly as you go through sort of the door-to-door campaigning process, how many people make it clear to you that one of their life plans is not to be in a nursing home. I don't know many people who are sitting around saying, "I can't wait until I get to a nursing home." We have some options.
There's some of you I would like to send there right away -- just checking to see if you were awake.
You know, it strikes me that the Healthcare Commission has some pretty good recommendations about strategies to try to keep people in their homes, and I think it is incredibly important that we be a state that not only has wealth but has a heart and tries to make sure that that happens.
Another area that I think is going to require some attention is there's a proposal to be given to you to expand and put some money into our high-risk insurance pool. That's for those who just literally can't get insurance. If you've talked to any of them, you're discovering that even in the pool as structured, they're sometimes paying two and three times what the rates are. I think that it is entirely appropriate for us to invest some state money to try to keep those costs down.
And it also makes financial sense. Bear in mind that if we don't make this high-risk insurance pool work, we sooner or later are going to pick these folks up on Medicaid or any other number of programs, but by the time we pick them up, we will have made them essentially impoverished.
These are people who are trying to work, trying to stay afloat, and we've set up a circumstance where they can't get private insurance because of a variety of things and yet if they continue to work and they continue to hold onto their house, they can't get Medicaid. What do you do? They end up not working. They end up selling their
house, and the next thing you know, we're picking them up on Medicaid.
So I would encourage you to think hard. It is not an inexpensive item. It is going to be $5 million to expand the coverage, make it a little cheaper for the folks who are already there and probably pick up another 5 to 700 individuals in that pool. But I would tell you now that it is a lot like the old Fram oil filter ad that we can either pay now or we're going to pay later, and if we pay later, we will pay at a much significantly increased rate. So I would encourage you to do that.
It seems to me that the other recommendation that's out there with regard to healthcare is to statutorily change the recording dates of the Healthcare Commission. You're in the same position I am. I get the Healthcare Commission recommendations, the bulk of them, right after you guys leave town. And it is a little difficult to operate on that schedule because then the recommendations are essentially a year old. This year a number of those bills are being picked up by folks who have been working with the commission.
I would encourage you to restructure that underlying legislation to require that the reports arrive at the legislature and at the governor in a timely fashion so that we can deal with them as they come through.
I also want to ask for some support on this methamphetamine question. I know that you guys don't -- I have yet to get any support, except for one or two, for my request for highway patrolmen. But I have every confidence that it enjoys bipartisan support since both your candidate for governor as well as myself endorsed this and I have every confidence that this year you're going to give me my 15 highway patrolmen. Maybe I'm not that confident.
Here's the problem that exists. Part of it has to do with methamphetamine, but part of it just has to do with the increased road traffic. Clearly they have trouble hiring and retaining people, and so you've got some issues that exist there which we're trying to address both through pay and equipment. But also we just need the bodies, and not just on I-80. We need some additional patrolmen all over the state.
And I hope that sort of notwithstanding the aversion people seem to have to this issue that we will actually step up and give some additional resources so that there will be safer streets both in terms of -- safer highways both in terms of regular traffic as well as more opportunity to do interdiction.
We're also presented with a remarkable opportunity in Casper related to methamphetamine which is you have through the City of Casper and some individuals the willingness to build a physical plant for a 100-bed treatment facility for methamphetamine. Now everybody says we've got to have more treatment, but for some reason this one did not enjoy support from the appropriations committee.
I would argue to you that it is a remarkable opportunity. We don't have to build the physical plant. What we have to do is to underwrite the operating costs of the treatment beds. And I don't know anyone in this state who doesn't believe that we need more treatment.
Now, it again falls prey to that old bugaboo we have in this state that we're not building one every place in the state where everybody needs one. I remember when I was U.S. Attorney I made the mistake of suggesting that we should consolidate regional treatment facilities so each county didn't have juveniles in their jail, and I got my head handed to me. So I'm going to phrase this one differently. And that is, let's start with the one in Casper and then in future years we will look to add to it. Because if you have dealt with, as many of us have, with people who have become addicted to methamphetamine, this is not an easy -- it is not an easy road to recovery. We have the opportunity here through the generosity of the City of Casper and some other individuals to jumpstart our effort to have greater treatment in the state. And I hope that you will consider taking advantage of that opportunity in the context of a knowledge that there are going to have to be more of these facilities built in the future. Some of the facilities that are going to be built in the future in other parts of the state we may have to underwrite, but we have the opportunity today to start with a 100-bed unit.
You will also find in our budget a recommendation with regard to additional funding for the Wildlife Trust Fund and for Water Account III. And I have trouble getting you guys -- guys and gals to put money into these accounts. each time it comes down to, "Well, it would be a good thing to do, and we all brag about it in our brochures when we talk about the Wildlife Trust Fund when we campaign, but, you know, Governor, it is not just that big a priority."
I would argue to you that wildlife in particular is an incredible priority for this state and it is an incredible priority for the average citizens. When I was campaigning I was in Campbell County going door to door. There was a young man and his father out getting their hunting trailer ready. And we go over, you know, and go through -- they're going elk hunting. They drew. We go through a discussion with them and then it was all great. We get through with that and I'm leaving. And the older guy hollers at me and he says, "You know, Governor, you may get to be Governor, but you ain't going elk hunting this year." And what it tells you is that I think he would rather go elk hunting than be governor, and he may be right.
But I hope that we will combine funding with the words that we use. Every one of us has talked to citizens in our counties, our districts, our state about how much we value the sort of Wyoming experience, and a big chunk of that is wildlife. But if, in fact, your budget recommends and reflects what your real priorities are, then we need to recognize that wildlife is a priority in fact and not just in words.
And it is a difficult issue and it is one that people have said, "We're going to do a little. We want to do enough to say we did something, but we're not going to do enough to quite make it work." We have created a board that picked great projects that people seem to endorse, and I would encourage you to do that. I have exactly the same sentiment with regard to Water Account III and, in fact, I've encouraged the legislative leadership to set a time for you to hear from the state meteorologist. Whether you call it global warming or you call it climate change or you call it the natural evolution of the historical pattern, he will demonstrate to you clearly we are heading into a period where the temperatures are warmer, snow melt is going to be harder to capture. There well may be less of it, there may well be more of it, but we need to get much more serious on behalf of future generations about setting aside money to build water projects.
I don't expect those projects to get built while I'm governor, but I know if I don't start the process of getting them underway and get money set aside, there will be future generations of this state who will discover that the most scarce resource in this state isn't available energy resources, it is going to be the availability of water.
Not only are we in the predicament where the climate is changing, but we are in a predicament where within the drainages that exist in Wyoming that flow downstream you have three of the fastest growing cities in the United States, notably in the Southwest, and they are becoming much, much more comfortable utilizing the water that we are not capturing in Wyoming. And we need to act to set money aside. We need to act aggressively through the Water Development Commission to find those projects. And I would be surprised if many of us in this room today will be here when one of those projects is finally commissioned, but I will tell you those projects won't be commissioned if those of us who are here today don't act properly.
Now we're down to the part where they say in conclusion and that brings great hope to all of those who are listening.
I want to tell you how much Nancy and I enjoy serving this state. This is a remarkable place. And I give you a lot of grief about legislature has the constitutional right to be wrong but you don't have to exercise it so much, and you give me grief about what it is that I'm doing.
I will tell you, one of the experiences of being governor that makes it clear to me why it is this matters is the support that we try to show on your behalf and on behalf of the citizens of the state for the men and women who are deployed from this state.
Whether it is at the deployment or the return, I will tell you that when they return from overseas, they're not really interested in either me or General Wright. I get a polite handshake and they're gone because they want to see their families.
The other thing is we attend all of the funerals for the soldiers from this state who have lost their lives, and we should.
One of the things that strikes me at each of these events is how incredibly lucky I am to be governor of this state. Thanks to what these young men and women do, some of them aren't so young, what they do, I have the opportunity to campaign. I have the opportunity to ask people for their votes. I have the opportunity to stand here before you.
And so I would encourage us to think about that as we make these decisions. I don't think that these men and women gave up their time, their careers, their time with their families and, in some cases, their life for us to make a decision based on whether it is a rich or poor county, make a decision on whether or not it is good for my district or my party or myself.
When we talk to them, we talk about the highest ideals of democracy. We talk about what it is that they are doing to protect this remarkable freedom. But the best way for us to honor these young men and women, to honor those of both current deployment and historical deployment -- the best way to honor them is to exercise our prerogatives as elected officials to the highest standards. We expect the highest standards from them when they protect this democracy. We should employ the highest standards we can when we exercise those rights and privileges that come with this democracy.
God bless you. God bless this country. And God bless Wyoming. Thank you very much.