Governor Gordon wary of ‘unintended consequences’ of property tax relief

Nathan Oster

As he begins his sixth year in the state’s highest office, Gov. Mark Gordon identified the continued diversification of the economy, property tax relief, mental health resources, the recruitment of first responders and the need for the education system to meet kids where they are as the top priorities of his second term.
Speaking to reporters gathered in Casper on Friday for the 125th annual convention of the Wyoming Press Association, Gordon spoke of his tenure in Cheyenne as an irrigator would of his alfalfa crop, with the successes of his first term now producing “green shoots” coming up around the state.
“The first cutting produced a lot of good stuff, but now that we’re into the second cutting, sometimes it’s easier to see where the water needs to go — and that’s a lot of what I’ve been focusing on in this second term,” he said.
Gordon said the state is more economically diverse than it’s been in the last 50 years, citing the dramatic growth of the tourism sector along with inroads in technology and manufacturing.  He shared a success story, referencing “a little company” that relocated from Los Angeles to Worland; it makes the stents that are needed for open-heart surgery.
“They love it (in Wyoming) because it’s the perfect place to do manufacturing,” he said.
Gordon said he expects property tax relief to be among the top priorities of the legislature, which convenes its biannual budget session in February.
Gordon is requesting more funding for the property tax rebate program. He said it has worked “reasonably well,” but he still wants to ensure “the people who deserve those breaks are the ones who received them.”
“So many in Wyoming equate taxes with what the state is doing, but the fact is, property taxes go mostly to schools and counties to provide essential services,” he said. “As we reflect on what we need to do to mitigate the most adverse circumstances, it’s important we do that with an understanding of what the unintended consequences might be.”
Later, he asked about the various property tax relief bills expected to be considered by the legislature. While describing them as “innovative” and “thoughtful,” he said his policy is not to take a stand on individual bills until they reach his desk.
Gordon said he will continue to push for resources to address mental health issues. Town hall meetings on the issue have been held around the state, with dramatically different stories coming out of each of them.
While some helpful legislation was passed last year, Gordon said, “We can do a better job of allocating resources across the spectrum and a better job of engaging with local groups,” before adding, “Let’s cowboy up, put our boots on and talk about it.”
“It’s astounding how this is resonating around the state and fascinating to have people like Stan Flitner (of Shell) come out and talk about his gifted grandson who took his own life and why people weren’t there to help him. He and (his daughter) Carol Bell are very involved in this process.”
With funding for the state’s suicide hotline looming as a legislative topic, Gordon cited the success of the program, saying, “98 percent of the calls that come into that number are resolved without having to deploy EMTs or police. That’s a cost savings for those who are worried about money and a life saver for those who are worried about humanity.”
Gordon expressed concern about the dwindling ranks of people willing to serve on ambulance crews and as EMTs.
“Most of the people who are willing to serve are getting older, many are in their 60s and some shouldn’t be doing the things they are doing,” he said. “We have to figure out how to make the EMT system work a little better, and we need to figure out how we are going to fund it. To me, it’s one of the biggest issues the state is going to have to come to grips with.”
On education, the governor said he’s excited about the early returns of the RIDE (Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education) initiative, which tasked a group to examine and identify what families, communities, businesses and citizenry expect from the K-12 educational system.
The goal of the system should be to “meet kids where they are,” he said. “If we have kids sitting in seats twiddling their thumbs, wanting to get out and work, they are not going to be excited about school,” he said. “We need to get an apprenticeship program set up ...  we need to define what mastery is ... and we need to provide an education system that is responsive to kids as they grow.”
Gordon added that teachers who wish to pursue certifications as part of continuing education should be able to do so while working — and without having to physically attend college.
“Wyoming is a great state to raise kids, and we need to make sure (the education system) is strong and vibrant, so when a company like Rocky Mountain Power says it needs employees, the Wyoming workforce can be the first one to step up and say, ‘We can do that.’”
And lastly, on the topic of energy, the governor acknowledged that he’s taken “a lot of heat” for suggesting an all-of-the-above approach to energy development.
“What we need more than anything is an honest policy, one that recognizes new technologies that are coming on,” he said, adding that nuclear energy “is going to be a big piece of what our future is” and “we can do amazing things with coal.” He added that the nation’s second largest wind farm will be coming online in Wyoming in the next couple of years.