By Sarah Pridgeon
Governor Matt Mead called for a forward thinking approach during his State of the State address on Monday, telling legislators that all eyes in Wyoming are on the budget this year. In particular, he stressed that it’s time to expand Medicaid and consider dipping into – and then repaying – the state’s rainy day fund.
“Our state is strong because of what we’ve been doing proactively,” he said, explaining that bunkering down would not have put the state in the position it is now and calling for the legislature to continue its focus on long term planning.
Reducing the budget and tough times ahead are realities that Wyoming faces, Mead said, but he called for continued support of local governments.
“One of the best umbrellas for this state when it’s raining is to support our local governments,” he said, commenting that if the Legislature sees fit to allocate more than he budgeted, he will support that.
Mead also questioned the rainy day fund itself, asking, “What’s it for?”
“When is it raining? What will be the triggers and parameters to draw from it? Questions that still remain unanswered today,” he said.
Without legislative guidance, Mead said he took the initiative to integrate it into budget to allow the state to “weather the storm”. He noted that the public will not be understanding of such things as cuts to senior service programs and a lack of funding to fix sewers if the legislature opts to continue adding to that rainy day fund rather than draw from it during these tough times.
“We’re out of time outs and we need to address Medicaid during this session,” said the governor of his proposal to expand Medicaid.
Mead reiterated that he kept his election promise to fight against the Affordable Care Act but it was upheld despite Wyoming’s best efforts. Because the legislature has not found a solution of its own to address the impacts of uninsured patients who would otherwise be covered in an expansion, he continued, organizations around the state including chambers of commerce, insurance companies and medical establishments are coming out in favor of expansion.
Mead referred to the $114 million per year in uncompensated care that hospitals must fund and the thin margin on which most hospitals operate.
“If we do not act, we may lose hospitals,” he said. “That’s why these organizations support expansion.”
The governor also spoke of the $310,000 per day that the state loses in federal funding every day that it chooses not to expand, as well as the $268 million that will come back to Wyoming over two years in federal taxes and the $33 million that could be saved within the Department of Health’s budget.
Around 20,000 residents of Wyoming remain uninsured, he said. He referred to the “philosophical” desire of some legislators to not spend federal money, stating that many state departments do exactly that: $115 million is received for education and $313 million for transportation, for example.
“Should we not make long term plans with those agencies because they receive federal dollars?” he asked, answering the concern that the federal government may back out of its promise to fund the expansion by suggesting that a condition be added for Wyoming to opt out if that happens.
“It’s more than fair not to like my suggestion but it’s not fair to Wyoming to leave these problems unaddressed,” he said.
Wyoming will still fight for changes, said the governor, but in the meantime how many people and hospitals will suffer?
“There’s an urgency to this issue,” he said.
Governor Mead stated that, though the restoration of Abandoned Mine Lands funding will bring in half a billion dollars over the next decade, the legislature will have a difficult job during this budget session and should make sure to prioritize people over projects.
By Sarah Pridgeon