When the Wyoming Legislature begins its budget session in February, lawmakers will have a lot of heavy lifting to do.
Some parts of the state experienced some economic growth on the tail-end of 2017, but Wyoming’s economy is still in a weakened state. That means lawmakers will have to best figure out how to stabilize government funding as well as what to do to promote business growth and development statewide.
The good news is they won’t have to start from scratch.
After working for more than six months, members of the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, or ENDOW, committee released their report detailing recommendations on how to best diversify our state’s economy.
Of their top 10 recommendations, five would require state funding:
— $15 million to improve and expand commercial air service within the state
— $10.35 million to improve access to broadband and technology
— $6 million to establish a Wyoming research and innovation fund
— $5 million to establish Startup: Wyoming, which would work to improve Wyoming’s entrepreneurial ecosystem
— An unspecified amount of funding for workforce training
We think there are some good opportunities within these recommendations — and others not requiring funding — but we hope more information comes out on how they might work as the Legislature takes them under consideration.
For example, the funding for improved and expanded commercial air service might require Wyoming’s commercial airports use one carrier. That might not be a good fit for Laramie Regional Airport.
Since switching in 2012 to SkyWest/United Express for air service, Laramie Regional Airport’s reputation has improved dramatically. We would hate to see the state require switching to a different carrier just because they’re willing to take on the challenge of providing service to airports which are struggling. At the same time, we would hate to see our airport be passed over for state funding because of its current success.
Additional funding for workforce training should also be fleshed out more. After all, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services already provides some job training services for residents. Now, if funding is used to bolster and expand those services already in place, then that might be a good use of funds. What we wouldn’t want to see is duplication of bureaucratic overhead.
Additional funding for improved broadband speed and access could be good for Wyoming. Our low population means there’s only so much market-driven investment private enterprises are willing to put into our state. This hits our business community especially hard, as the need for connectivity and speed increases exponentially. Private enterprise should still take the lead on increased broadband development, but we’d encourage lawmakers to investigate the possibility of the state bolstering those efforts.
On the government funding side of ENDOW, we think the committee should have delivered a stronger, more practical message to our elected officials. Government revenue isn’t addressed at all until the last page of the ENDOW report. Even then, that page focuses on Wyoming’s lack of personal and corporate income tax helping the state score well in business-friendly rankings.
But that’s been the case for years, and Wyoming’s economy still hasn’t diversified. On the other hand, consider Colorado or Idaho, both of which have grown their economies beyond their original staples of agriculture and natural resources. These two states have accomplished this despite the fact they have personal income and corporate taxes.
Anyone who thinks Wyoming’s way to prosperity can be paved by merely offering the same solution of “no taxes” needs to merely look at the past 30 years.
For years, we have watched many businesses choose front-range communities with higher taxes, but better transportation and community amenities attract those targeted businesses.
All of these continuing cuts to local governments by the Wyoming Legislature is the opposite of what we should be doing if ENDOW is to succeed in building diversity and stability.
Businesses choose to relocate to specific communities, whether that’s Rawlins or Rock Springs or Laramie. When those communities are forced to offer residents fewer amenities and services because of state funding cuts, the whole ENDOW program becomes ineffective.
It really is time for lawmakers to do their jobs and to make some hard decisions instead of just cutting in the easiest places they can find.
If they don’t, then ENDOW could end up as nothing more than an exercise in futility.