TORRINGTON — Gov. Mark Gordon stuck to his guns Monday and furthered his message that Wyomingites should wear masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
During a telephone town hall meeting with Wyoming AARP, Gordon also spoke about other important issues such as how the state government’s 20% budget reduction will affect senior citizens, but the main topics raised by callers were the novel coronavirus, its impact on the economy, and of course – masks.
“We want people to wear masks,” he said. “It’s something that we encourage. We have a private property right, so if a business owner wants to have people wear masks when they come into their store, that’s no problem at all. We are required to wear shirts and shoes at the same time. We do not want to go backwards. Our economy has done a little bit better than we expected.”
Gordon said Wyoming has been listed as one of the most effective states in the ongoing battle with the virus, and he attributes that to the methodical approach spearheaded by the state’s leadership.
“We’re really steering a very thoughtful and safe course, making sure that our economy remains strong and our people remain safe,” he said. “There’s been a lot of conversation and national press back and forth, and you haven’t seen Wyoming feature very largely and that’s largely because we’ve tried to take it very safe, prudent, slow and steady.”
A woman who identified herself as Barbara, from Torrington, asked the governor if there was any way the state could survive without making cuts to senior programs and places like Diversified Services Inc.
Gordon said he couldn’t make any promises.
“We have to kind of look everywhere, but I’m very, very conscientious of the value that our senior centers have, not only because of the fact that they’re a great place for information and great place for camaraderie, for being able to get together and all that. It’s also true that they provide really essential services and we want to make sure that those services go forward as best we can.
“But the challenge that we have is really what I said: one third of our income is gone. And now it may come back and we hope it does, and we’re certainly trying to position ourselves carefully so we don’t overdo it. We have to be able to work carefully everywhere, knowing that we can’t reduce the services, but making sure that we can still meet that obligation of having a balanced budget and I will take your comments very much into consideration.”
Gordon stressed the importance of balancing the budget and not leaning too heavily on reserves.
There simply isn’t enough to cut in the state government to come up with the expected budget shortfall.
“We want to make sure that we want to have efficient and good government,” he said. “We do have some savings, that’s true. People know about the legislative stabilization reserve account or so called rainy day account. And there is an ability there for us to carry a little bit.
“Just so you know how devastating this loss of income is, if we cut every Wyoming employee, we wouldn’t be able to balance our budget. If we ran without any cuts for a year and counted on our rainy day account, about all we would run is one more year. So we have to make these changes.”
State agencies were hit hard with the first round of budget cuts, but Gordon said the cuts could extend further in the second round.
“I don’t want that to come on the backs of people who can least afford it,” he said. “But we’ve got to be very thoughtful in how we’re doing it, how we’re making our adjustments to this budget. That’s why I started with the agencies, and that’s why I’m in the first round, and the second round I wanted to make sure that the legislature knows what this could mean to the services that state governments deliver.
“There’s never been a time when we need to have legislators who are more willing to really sit down, roll up their sleeves, sharpen their pencil, figure out what the people of Wyoming need, and understand how we’re going to deliver it.”