(Riverton, Wyo.) – Four Wyoming State Legislators and one candidate running for the state’s top office addressed the 60 participants of the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees fall conference Wednesday night at Central Wyoming College. The conference is focused on safety and security issues.
Appearing in a panel were St. Sen. Affie Ellis of Laramie and State Reps. John Freeman of Green River, Albert Sommers of Pinedale and Lloyd Larsen of Lander. Joining the panel was Democratic Party Gubernatorial candidate Mary Throne of Cheyenne. Republican Mark Gordon was unable to attend.
Sen. Ellis cautioned the audience “that Wyoming will be fine” on the subject of state revenues and budgeting. “It might take us a few years to get it all sorted out, but we’ll be okay.” Ellis noted that the legislature is struggling to dig out of a $400-million plus hole in funding for K-12 education and that topic would be one of the key topics at the upcoming 2019 session.”
Rep. Freeman said his biggest concern was finding a way to fund education, and that included helping the colleges fund their obligations under the ENDOW legislation, which he said leans heavily on the colleges to train the state’s workforce in a fast changing economy.
Rep. Sommers and Larsen, both members of the Legislature’s powerful Joint Appropriations Committee, said several legislative interim committees are looking at how to enhance the states revenues while trying to take care of the state’s community colleges with current revenues. “There is no doubt that we need to broaden our tax base,” Sommers said, “minerals carry most of the load right now.” Sommers and Larsen both said the topic of how to broaden the tax base is the question. Suggestions from the panel included a statewide lodging tax or a one penny tax with revenues directed to the colleges, increasing the state sales tax by a penny, or eliminating some of the current exemptions. Sommers, however, said he doesn’t think the state’s residents right now would go for any tax increases.
Mary Throne said one way to address the state’s need for revenue while also emphasizing the need for real healthcare solutions is to accept Medicaid Expansion, which she said would bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the state to help 20,000 state residents. She also said the program would help keep the state’s smaller rural hospitals open. For the past four years, however, current Governor Matt Mead and the Legislative Majority have opposed accepting those Federal dollars.
As to requests for funding, Larsen suggested that the community colleges be very specific and prioritize their needs to enhance campus security. “Don’t ask for everything because you won’t get it, but give us your top priorities. Be realistic,” he said.