CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Note: The following is an opinion piece written by Gov. Mark Gordon regarding the 2023 Legislative Session.
At the commencement of the 67th Legislature, in my State of the State address and my supplemental budget request, I identified multiple legislative priorities focused on ensuring Wyoming’s success, now and into the future. I am pleased to report several noteworthy achievements that benefit our citizens and our state.
As governor, I have always been committed to ensuring that our state is financially stable and prepared for unforeseen economic challenges. That is why I emphasized the importance of making hay while the sun is shining–in times of economic prosperity, we must save for leaner times. This fiscally responsible approach ensures we have the resources to continue providing the services our citizens expect of their state government without increasing taxes, even when facing economic downturns. Some argue this approach is unnecessarily cautious, but I firmly believe we owe it to our citizens to be thoughtful and strategic with our financial decisions. A cursory look at the downward trend in current crude oil or natural gas prices underscores why the state must be wary of profligacy in good times.
Overall, the supplemental budget bill I signed aligns with my goals and is a responsible, forward-thinking approach to managing our state’s finances by prioritizing funding for essential services and programs now and setting aside $1.3 billion in savings. We are looking toward the future and investing in the present. It is important to do this now because our current budget includes a one-time windfall of $412 million of federal revenue-replacement funds going away next year, and I have already mentioned commodity volatility.
The second largest component of my budget focuses on addressing those most impacted by the effects of inflation—seniors and those living on a fixed income. I appreciate that the legislature recognizes that targeted property tax relief for Wyoming families facing rapid inflation-driven increases in residential property taxes helps provide stability when it is most essential. Expanded eligibility and funding for the Property Tax Refund Program is expected to double the number of Wyoming households who can receive targeted assistance, a huge win for Wyoming people.
Local governments are not immune to the impacts of inflation. This is why I requested additional funding for direct distribution funding for our communities, as well as funding the Mineral Royalty Grant program. Our smaller Wyoming communities with limited revenue opportunities struggle when faced with unexpected emergencies and accelerated inflation. I am grateful the legislature recognized the importance of supporting our communities and funded these requests.
Since 2018 Wyoming has solidly landed as the state with the highest suicide rates, and every year our citizens’ demand for mental health services grows. At my conference on mental health in Casper last year, the call for help in mental health services was apparent. No one seems immune, as demand for mental health services spans all generations and socio-economic strata. Last year’s data show a reduction in our ever-increasing suicide rate, which may indicate some of our recent efforts are starting work.
Increasing access to mental health services in Wyoming has been one of my top priorities, and I am happy to share that we had a productive session that will positively impact our Wyoming residents. Senate File 26 and SF10 expand access to mental health services. House Bill 140 establishes the Collaborative Care Model, which creates a funding model for providers offering wrap-around mental health services, improving patient outcomes. These bills increase access to this critical care for our people struggling with the debilitating effects of mental health.
Suicide hotlines help break down the barriers of stigma around mental health and suicide while encouraging individuals to seek help when needed. In 2022, we launched a critical tool to help Wyomingites experiencing a mental health crisis, the 24/7 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
I am grateful the legislature created a trust fund account for the 988 hotline, although I was disappointed it wasn’t funded this year. To sustain this vital life-saving program, securing an adequate appropriation for the hotline is one of my priorities.
From day one, I have been clear, I am pro-life, not just pro-birth. If one is truly pro-life, it means supporting mothers, Wyoming’s families, and our kids, not just opposing abortion–anything less seems cynical. Wyoming must ensure access to healthcare for vulnerable infants and mothers so that they can thrive during and after pregnancy. Complications from pregnancy and maternal mortality rates are often preventable, as well as improved health outcomes for mother and baby when access to prenatal and postnatal care is readily available.
Proactive care for babies and mothers can also translate to cost savings later by reducing the need for social services and law enforcement. I could not be more pleased that we signed two essential bills helping mothers and newborns receive the care they need in the most important year of a child’s life. HB4 Medicaid Twelve Month Postpartum Coverage extends postpartum coverage for Medicaid-eligible moms from 60 days to twelve months. SF79 Plan of Safe Care, developed with providers, requires hospitals to develop a Plan of Safe Care for any infant born exposed to substances, ensuring necessary resources are established before discharge from the hospital. These legislative achievements are conservative and truly pro-life.
My commitment to the people of Wyoming and prioritizing their needs remains unwavering. Together, we will build a stronger, more prosperous Wyoming.