I can see clearly now — the year 2020 could emerge as one of the most important years in Wyoming’s history as various trends emerge.
Like the score on an eye test, 2020 has the makings of perfect vision when it comes to trying to identify issues important to the state. But wait; there is both excitement and dread. Is this the year for some exciting innovations to catch hold in the state? Is this the year when our spending excesses catch up with us?
State leaders are looking for some homeruns in job development. Maybe more firearms companies will move here. Can we slow down the devastating blows to the fossil fuel industry, especially for coal?
The Legislature meets for its biennial budget session on Feb. 10 and you can bet some hellfire rhetoric will be heard about how “robbing our rainy day fund” is driving the state to the poor house.
Yet the facts will show we have over $1 billion in that fund and some $20 billion in other funds stashed in various coffee cans from the permanent mineral trust fund. Going broke? Compared to other states, Wyoming is a beacon of good financial governance.
Gov. Mark Gordon is not one of the shrill voices. But he suggests austerity will be with us for a while. Rather than across the board cuts, he likes each agency head to adjust his or her budget in ways that make sense to it and to the state. Tough decisions are expected and some folks will lose their jobs.
I am looking forward to covering the Legislature in its brand new remodeled digs. State Sen. Eli Bebout reminded me that I was wrong in my last column about how much was spent on the remodeling. The correct number is just over $300 million, or $500 for each man, woman, and child in the state. By the looks of the place, the future will show that it was a good investment.
Looking ahead to 2020, I hope the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie are placed back outside by the entrance of the building, where they belong.
Some 300 miles northwest of Cheyenne, the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will open in May. Dan Starks has created Wyoming’s newest great museum. Folks, this is going to be a treat. You have no idea just how big and how impressive this museum is going to be. It is a game changer for tourism in the western part of the state.
Commercial air service made some big changes when Sheridan, Riverton, Gillette, and Rock Springs all became aligned with United-SkyWest. We have seen some amazing experiments in state and federally subsidized air service in these communities over the past ten years.
The national election in 2020 will have ramifications in Wyoming. A Donald Trump reelection could provide an economic boost through his support of fossil fuels and his reducing anti-fossil-fuel policies from taking effect. Trump’s efforts to improve ag trade with China would be welcome, too.
In Wyoming, we will elect a new U.S. Senator. The assumption is that current U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney will run. Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis is already running hard. Former Gov. Matt Mead says he is not, and Jackson GOP megadonor Foster Friess says he is weighing his options.
If Liz Cheney moves up to the Senate race, the race for her House seat could be one of the all-time donnybrooks in Wyoming election history. For political observers, this will be an exciting year in Wyoming.
Two big important jobs will be filled in 2020. The University of Wyoming will hire a new president after trustees did not renew Laurie Nichols’ contract in 2019. Also, the Wyoming Business Council will be seeking a replacement for CEO Shawn Reese.
The move toward more transparency (like 2020 vision?) will soon be getting one of its first big tests. State Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs), has requested a list of every Wyoming school employee and his or her salary as he goes into the Legislative budget session. Lots of folks are complaining and do not want that information out.
Some years ago, the Casper Star Tribune annually published a list of the highest paid state employees showing his or her wages. This request by Sen. James opens the door for some media outlet to also disseminate the list.
Gov. Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines have both shown initiative when it comes to transparency. Will 2020 be the most open year yet? Let’s hope so.
I am a big fan of the Rachel’s Challenge program, which works with schools to prevent bullying, teen suicides, and school shootings. It looks like 2020 will be a banner year in Wyoming as more schools sign up.
There will be a push to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program, which will save the Cowboy State millions of dollars and provide needed medical service to many needy people. Also on the medical front, there will be efforts to have medical facilities be required to publish their “cash/self-pay” prices for procedures and medical drugs.
Gov. Gordon is also leading an effort in 2020 to have the Public Service Commission investigate Rocky Mountain Power’s new plan, which will close most of its coal-fired power plants sooner than expected.
Gordon is also working hard to open some ports somewhere where Wyoming coal can be shipped overseas. Again with a Trump administration, there is promise for this development in 2020.
Also on the energy front will be the development of thousands of new giant windmills, as we see the state slowly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in 2020. The state’s biggest solar project is also due to be expanded, north of Interstate 80 in southwest Wyoming.
Figuring out a way to pay for all the maintenance on Interstate 80 will see the beginnings of exploring a tolling system. Meanwhile, it is hoped that Wyoming drivers pay better attention and fasten their seat belts more in 2020. The 2019-year was deadly on the state’s highways.
We can’t write a column like this without mentioning musical superstar Kanye West and what he is doing in Park County. Now that will be an interesting story in 2020 as he continues to expand his businesses there.
Let’s hope that with a year named 2020, we can maintain a clear vision for Wyoming’s future that improves the lives of its 579,000 citizens. Happy New Year!