On December 11th, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce hosted a Pasta & Politics event in the Gallery at Cheyenne’s Metropolitan Downtown.
A panel of State Legislators attended to discuss the upcoming 2020 budget session. Panelists included Senator Affie Ellis, Senator Tara Nethercott, Representative Bill Henderson, Representative Dan Zwonitzer. The panel was moderated by Mike Williams, of Jonah Bank.
Throughout the active discussion, it was evident that our elected officials are doing big things, making progress, and working for Wyoming’s people. They are committed to listening and finding creative solutions to diversify and revitalize Wyoming’s economy.
Panelists were asked to share their most pressing issues for the 2020 budget session. They unanimously agreed that K-12 education needed to be approached with thoughtful and balanced decision making.
Senator Affie Ellis shared that a challenge lies within the state’s population growth rate. Her concern is that population inflation might outpace taxation revenue in a significant way. She shared that it is possible to spend less and do more.
Senator Tara Nethercott concurred and said that we need to deliver a quality product for less. Making responsible reductions while delivering high quality education to our students will be essential to manage spending.
The panel was also asked to address the decline of coal and the effects this has on the state’s budget. The consensus long term vision is we need to diversify Wyoming’s economy and that a fallacy exists in Wyoming – that the state can replace coal revenue. Nethercott said that coal will still be relevant as a revenue source; however, the future of coal will look different moving forward. It will always be important, just not at the level we have seen it. Coal’s historically high revenue numbers suggest a replacement is not realistic.
Representative Dan Zwonitzer shared that the legislature is looking at increases in taxation to fund the state. Potentially corporate income, property, service, or lodging tax to generate revenue. Wyoming has a reputation for being very lean with taxes; however moving forward, difficult choices need to be made to fund our state. Wyoming’s financial structure needs to change within the next 5 years. Small changes now will help the state in the long run.
Zwonitzer continued that next year, Wyoming will experience 4,000 job losses but only 1,000 residents are projected to leave Wyoming. This means that 3,000 residents will be searching for employment. Most of the loss will not occur in Laramie County. Laramie County is growing, stable, and successful; but, will need to support other counties moving forward.
Ellis added that we are exporting our best resources – our high school graduates after they receive their education. We need to create jobs and opportunities for students to stay in our community after working to fund their education.
Representative Bill Henderson shared that the United States Air Force’s missile upgrade project, GBSD, is a once in a generation opportunity and is projected to create job growth within the state as well.
The Chamber has been working separately on efforts to have the United States Air Force select Cheyenne as the first missiles to be upgraded in the process. This effort is championed by the Chamber’s Wyoming Business Advocates program. There are a total of three missile bases requiring the upgrade: FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Henderson shared that we need to look at places where we can re-calibrate and that this project could give us leverage to diversify the economy moving forward.
Lastly, the panel was asked about blockchain technology and its ability to diversify Wyoming’s economy.
Nethercott shared that Wyoming is fast and nimble to respond to the needs of this growing industry. Blockchain has exponential potential; however, her fear is that the work Wyoming has done with blockchain and financial technology might be replicated by other states that are also providing competitive environments. She recalled that Wyoming was the first to develop the corporate structure of the LLC to diversity our economies in the 70’s. Shortly after, Delaware followed suit. Nethercott expressed that it was a race to the front to attract these businesses and demonstrate that Wyoming is a competitive frontier for business. The work we are doing is very good and the state is seeing quantifiable and tangible results.
On the other side of the coin, Henderson urged legislators to use caution with these developing technologies and shared his perspective from the banking industry.
Final thoughts from the panel were very optimistic for the future of the state.
“It is an honor to represent Cheyenne and I cannot think of another community I would rather do this for. We are the perfect mix of all the wonderful things happening in Wyoming. What an exciting time – a lot of this is driven because we have such strong business leaders.” Senator Affie Ellis
As 2019 comes to a close, you can take comfort in the fact that your elected officials are working for you and have you in mind as they are making decisions.
“We have healthy savings, robust income, natural resources that bring in revenue, and the future is bright, but we have lots of hard work to do.” Senator Tara Nethercott
This month, Pasta & Politics was held in lieu of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce’s Action & Advocacy committee meeting. This is the premier State and Local advocacy organization.
This event was made possible by Pasta & Politics sponsors:
Holland & Hart
RBC Wealth Management
Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc.