Wyoming State of the State Address 2004

Cheyenne, Wyo., Feb. 9 Following is the full text of Gov. Dave Freudenthal's (D) State of the State address:

Mr. Speaker, Madame President, Members of the Wyoming State Senate and House of Representatives, Mr. Chief Justice and Members of the Court, Fellow Elected Officials and Citizens of our beloved state. It is an honor to appear before you today.

My first order of business today is to express Nancy and my thanks to the people of Wyoming for the honor and opportunity you have given us to serve as Governor and First Lady. At times, the last year seems a brief moment and on other days, it seems to have been a decade. But the one constant has been the remarkable opportunity to work with and to work for the people of Wyoming. To those assembled in this chamber and to the citizens of Wyoming we simply say, thank you.

A year has passed since I last spoke to you from this podium. The flow of events, particularly in the national energy economy, has improved the financial fortune of our State government and some of its citizens. But we must not forget that many in our state are not sharing in this prosperity and their energy bills have skyrocketed.

Nor should we forget that the same national energy economy that fills our coffers could inadvertently turn our state into a water and wildlife wasteland. This is not the time to reduce our efforts to protect our environment, our water and our wildlife. Do we want future generations to conclude that we traded our Wyoming heritage for a few years of government revenues and low personal taxes?

Similarly, I would not want future generations to conclude that increased mineral revenues encouraged us to abandon our modest efforts to expand and diversify our economy through investments in education, our communities, our infrastructure and those programs designed to promote and expand economic opportunity. I recall, as a young man in the mid-seventies, watching the state largely abandon encouraging diversification and economic opportunity. The focus was primarily on responding to a mineral development boom.

I am pleased to have recommended budget efforts to respond to the expanded oil and gas development. But I am equally committed to investing in our people and our development of economic opportunity statewide.

We are in the enviable position to make strategic investments in our future and our children's future without increasing taxes. We lament our children's departure from Wyoming because we lack the jobs that would be generated by a growing economy. In some ways our state is a business. And like a business, we will not grow if we do not invest in ourselves and our people. If low taxes were the only item necessary for economic diversification, Wyoming would never have endured the bust of the 1980s or missed the great national economic expansion of the 1990s.

These notes of caution need not obscure this remarkable opportunity to truly serve the current and future citizens of our state. But with opportunity comes the obligation to make the most of this opportunity. This obligation clearly rests upon each of us during these twenty days of decision. None of us expected this turn of events. Last year's session closed with the gloomy prospect of convening this year to argue about taxes and debt for classroom and prison construction. What a difference a year makes.

A dear friend of mine summed up the opportunity and obligation dilemma hidden in the projected revenue spike in pretty plain language. As only a friend can do, he looked at the projected revenue increases, looked at me with skeptical eye, and said, I don't know whether you are a good governor or not, but you sure are a lucky one.

And since I consider all of you my friends, I pass on his observation: I do not know if you are good legislators or not, but you certainly are lucky ones. And I have little doubt that the citizens of the state are watching to see if we are simply elected officials with the good fortune to serve during a revenue spike or are we actually any good at our jobs.

Obviously, there is much more than luck to explain Wyoming's current circumstance. Over the decades, Wyoming has attempted to seek a balance that encourages a reasoned regulatory environment and access to federal lands for development.

It is appropriate to recognize the leadership of past legislators and Governor Hathaway, who in 1974 put in motion the constitutionally mandated Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. The fund now exceeds $2 billion. Regardless of any action we might take in the next 20 days, the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund is projected to receive more than $200 million by operation of the State Constitution.

Be it good fortune, great skill or some combination thereof, this budget session is indeed a rare opportunity for Wyoming. But this opportunity does not exist in a vacuum we cannot simply do whatever strikes our fancy. We are a part of the unfolding story of Wyoming, and we must act in context, within the limitations of time and place. These limitations became painfully clear in finalizing our recommended budget. I suspect the Appropriation Committee experience was no different. While our opportunity is not limitless, it is remarkable in the breadth of long-standing issues it allows us to address.

I will spare the legislative members, our citizens and myself, the pain of a dramatic reading of the lengthy budget document. However several general observations as to four roughly definable types of expenditures are appropriate.

In preparing my final budget recommendations, it quickly became apparent that two major capital construction funding issues have dominated the state agenda for several years classroom construction and the deficiencies of our corrections system. Much work has been done by this body and prior administrations developing plans and programs to address significant problems in corrections. Efforts were adopted to carefully craft a response to the Supreme Court mandate on school construction. At the end of the last session we had maturing plans and a state agenda. But we lacked the essential element money.

In late summer, projected revenues suggested a high probability we would have the money. Sudden spikes in projected revenue can blur our vision. We are tempted to tinker with the process and projects to make sure we leave our imprint. For instance, my heart wanted to create an exception to the school facilities guidelines for my alma mater in Thermopolis. But an exception for a single school district based on sentiment certainly offends the equality principles articulated by the court. To alter the guidelines appeared to have significant statewide implications for the taxpayers. With some effort, we rejected the demon of legacy. My recommended budget and the appropriations committee proposal largely fund the corrections and school construction agenda that has existed for many years.

And it is funded without increased government debt and without imposing new, unnecessary taxes on our citizens. Let us stay the course. This is not the time to hesitate or to engage in fancy riding and trick roping.

A second area which received considerable attention was the combination of investment in the state and addressing needs that had developed during the periods of limited revenue. Those included such items as added monies distributed to local governments based largely on population, monies for the Colleges and University for matching endowments, investment in Business Ready Communities and tourism, direct funding of the Wyoming Water Development Commission and funding state facility construction throughout Wyoming, including improvements at the State Fair.

A third area was setting aside money in various accounts as savings or a hedge against a decline in projected revenues. I emphasize projected revenues because this budget is premised on the Consensus Revenue Estimating Groups best available projections. We are not authorizing the expenditure of funds already in the state coffers. My recommended budget contained approximately $230 million dollars in this category. The expanded revenues since December may provide the option of adding to this amount.

A final area of consideration was the operating budgets. This is probably the most difficult portion of the budget to analyze and compare, given the limitations of our budgeting process. The increases in this area are real but not unreasonable. Personnel costs, including insurance, continue to drive the costs of most service businesses. Government is no different. This budget addresses the need for realistic salary and benefits for public sector employees at the university, community colleges and state agencies. You have demonstrated your sensitivity to public employee issues with your own legislative staff. I have tried to follow your lead in formulating this package for the executive branch.

While there are differences, and some are significant, between my recommendations and the Appropriation Committee Bill, both documents ultimately reflect the contours of the reality we face. I would also point out that the reality faced by the Appropriations Committee was $160 million more pleasant than the world on December 1, 2003, when my budget recommendations were completed.

On the matter of corrections, I had recommended setting aside funding for the major prison construction contemplated in Senate File 16 passed last session. While the appropriation committee did not follow this recommendation, they did recommend paying off a similar amount of prison construction bond indebtedness and funding for the design and planning for the new prison. The expectation seems to be that added revenues will be available next year. This is an equally reasonable, if perhaps more future revenue optimistic, course of action.

As you contemplate the use of the additional revenues, I hope you will plan for the prison construction money we will need next year. I also depart from the position of the Joint Appropriations Committee on two university related issues. First, our request for enhanced oil recovery funding was not adopted by the Appropriations Committee. In part, this is an understandable reflection of the delayed submission of the request. I would only ask that you give serious consideration to funding this effort to help rejuvenate the aging oil fields of Wyoming. A vast resource remains untapped.

A sustained effort is needed to access this resource for future generations. Second, the funding of the athletic facilities budget remains a priority. I know that it will receive your serious consideration. I simply ask for consideration on the merits, setting aside our views as to the appropriateness of the university's response to the actions of the Appropriations Committee.

As I continue to talk about the budget, a variation of the sage advice from a member of the upper Chamber comes to mind: "Governor, there is no need to saw any sawdust here today." Before addressing some of the nonbudget matters you will consider, I must pass on a constituent comment by way of Casper. In a recent discussion about how the new governor is doing this gentleman observed as to how, the new governor seemed to be doing OK, but why does he have to have an opinion about everything? A fair question and one that each of us in elected life have wondered about more than once. I will try to limit the expression of opinions to items members of this body have referred to me.

Health care will continue to be a major issue in our state's future. If there is one issue that will touch the lives of each and every one of us in this chamber, in this state, it is health care. Health care will affect our quality of life, our mortality, or economic future, our jobs, our parents and our children. Staggering increases in insurance costs will drag down family budgets as well as the states. Failure to take steps now will cause a domino effect of uncertainty and eventual financial calamity. This body created a health-care commission that is taking action, promoting solutions. Continued funding as it moves forward is imperative.

The commission has formally suggested, and I support, placing before the voters a constitutional amendment that would allow us to address one narrow, but incredibly contentious, aspect of this crisis. This amendment would allow this body, should it choose, to consider caps on noneconomic damage awards in medical malpractice cases or to establish a medical review panel. The proposed amendment which by itself changes no statutory or case law, imposes no limits and creates no panel was passed out of committee by an overwhelmingly favorable vote, and I encourage you to approve this measure so our citizens can decide if they wish to put this issue on the table as one part of a solution. Is this a magic bullet that will remedy our health-care crisis? No, not by itself, but it gives us a critical tool in the box.

Voting for this amendment is not voting for caps or for a medical review panel. It is asking our citizens for their instruction.

I am pleased that the Joint Judiciary Committee has unanimously reported out a bill giving fundamental recognition to the rights of the Wyoming citizens who live on our land. As we all have seen so many times, there are aspects of the proposed bill that do not fit our individual preferences. I'm certain there are parts of this bill that many of you do not prefer, but that should not preclude full consideration of the proposal. Some are suggesting that legislation on behalf of the landowner will stop coalbed methane development entirely thereby bringing ruin and catastrophe to our great state. To such alarmist speculation, I ask you to bring deliberation and reason. Many of our sister states provide much more protection to surface owners. Their development prospers. Their development continues. The companies that do business here do business there. We must read and understand what this bill does, and what it doesn't do.

If the proposal goes too far, we have the opportunity to alter it in this session. The bill you have does not allow a surface owner to stop mineral production. It does not change the fundamental relationship between the legal estates. It's about giving our friends and neighbors a voice in those limited circumstances where no one is willing to listen.

Introduction of this bill is an appropriate and necessary first step to a greater recognition that the surface owners are entitled to respect and consideration for what happens on their land. All of us in this chamber would want and expect our government to provide some protection against the destruction of our land by the small but very real proportion of developers who will not otherwise give any regard to our landowners.

Over the past few years, various state officials, individuals and interest groups have discussed the possible state purchase of approximately 30,000 acres of land in Crook County. This property is generally referred to as Homestake or Moskee. Legislative proposals will be offered for your consideration during this session. I encourage this discussion.

There is a vision of the property that includes citizen access to national forests, hunting, fishing, and a wide array of citizen activities. An approach has been outlined whereby the state secures a one year option to purchase the property. This would allow a full evaluation of the property, including the public benefits, means of purchase and operating costs. Such an approach seems logical since the devil is in the details particularly in real estate transactions. I would note my opposition to the purchase of the property from the permanent school account.

A year ago, the body voted overwhelmingly in support of Wyoming's wolf-management plan in House Bill 229. This bill wasn't written in a vacuum; we had written assurance from the Department of Interior that our bill was acceptable. Then the Fish and Wildlife Service hand-picked a panel of scientists to review it, and they concluded that the plan was scientifically sound. Now, the Department of the Interior has changed its mind, and three weeks ago we were informed that our plan was suddenly not acceptable.

We were asked to meet yet another list of requirements. The federal government objects not on a scientific basis, but upon a vaguely defined legal risk analysis. This is not just about semantics. It is about achieving wolf delisting on rational terms that work for Wyoming. I don't care what we call them as long as we can manage them. The new demands from the federal government go far beyond the word predator and include changing how a pack is defined and even questioning whether the national parks will assume responsibility for half of the 15 packs it plans for Wyoming.

I have requested that my recent letter to the Secretary of Interior be distributed to you. We are continuing discussions with the Department of Interior in hopes of avoiding litigation. We are involving legislative members in these discussions.

As we approach these and a hundred other issues in the coming weeks, it seems useful to remember why our work matters. Particularly as the stacks of information pile up and emotions run high, we need to step back, take a breath and remember what is important in our lives and in the work we do. In the most practical sense, this is all about the health and well-being of the people and families of Wyoming. Discussions about health care, economic development, better-paying jobs, agriculture, water, environmental protection, education, substance abuse or tax policy should all be measured by their impact on people and families. Our impact on families, in the broadest sense, the Wyoming family occupies our hearts and our minds.

Marshaling the forces of government, the private business sector, the non-profits, civic organizations, and the faith-based community to build a future is our challenge.

A part of our Wyoming family has been called upon to bear a special burden for our state and Nation in the ongoing military conflict. To those from whom the ultimate sacrifice has been demanded and to their families, we extend our admiration, our prayers and appreciation. To those now deployed or preparing to deploy and to their families who remain behind our prayers and thanks are given without reservation.

Please join me in recognizing Adjutant General Wright and four family members of deployed guardsmen. They are here today on behalf of hundreds of Wyoming family members and soldiers.

I look forward to working with each of you throughout the session. I seek to respect the independence of your deliberations without creating artificial barriers to the flow of information, ideas and conversation. The coffee pot is still working on the first floor. Although, I admit to having been advised that the coffee isn't always tasty.

Madame President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Legislature. Thank You.
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