Gov. Mark Gordon covered much ground in his second State of the State address Monday, but he spoke most resolutely on one topic: protecting the place of fossil fuels in Wyoming’s economy, even as the global market increasingly spurns them in favor of renewable energy.
The speech opened the governor’s first budget session, during which state lawmakers will approve revenues and expenditures for the 2021-22 biennium. The question of how to ensure a sustainable fiscal future will hang over many of the Legislature’s decisions amid diminishing funds from coal, oil and natural gas.
Those economic staples have propped Wyoming up for decades, and Gordon insists that they can continue to do so. Declaring the state “strong,” he vowed to keep it that way by defending the energy sector against what he termed a “myopic national political attitude to vilify fossil fuels” and the policies many states have enacted to reduce carbon emissions.
“We produce better energy, more safely, and with more attention to the environment than anywhere else on the planet,” Gordon said. “And yet our industries are still discriminated against, maligned, and decried as dead.”
“Well, not on my watch,” he added, to a standing ovation and the longest applause of his speech.
Through work at the University of Wyoming and the Integrated Test Center, he said, Wyoming can maintain a place for fossil fuels into the future, chiefly through carbon capture and sequestration.
But over the next month, the Legislature will also make perhaps its most successful foray yet into non-energy-dependent funding sources. With several new tax proposals, including on lodging and large national corporations, lawmakers could diversify the state’s economy and shift it away from the traditional boom-and-bust model.
Gordon, for his part, has said the only new tax he will support is one on lodging services, to help Wyoming compete with neighboring states. House Bill 134, which would establish a statewide 5% tax on hotel stays, may have a better shot this year with his blessing.
Though a similar bill failed in 2019 despite widespread industry support, the new one passed its first hurdle Monday, after the State of the State address, when the House of Representatives voted to introduce it.
Gordon gave a nod to the tourism and outdoor recreation industries, saying they “represent an enormous opportunity to grow our economy.”
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 64, would impose an income tax of 7% on corporations with more than 100 shareholders, generating an estimated $45 million for the Wyoming School Foundation in the next two years.
After enduring major budget cuts in recent years, the state’s education system will be bolstered by reserves in this biennium. But drawing regularly from those rainy-day funds is not a sustainable plan, and Gordon said he hopes to “trigger a serious conversation” about long-term solutions.
“We have savings; this means we have time,” Gordon said. “Not a lot of time, but time to make thoughtful decisions about our future and our budget.”