Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is seeking his second term in office and one of the things he is touting is growth in business and the state’s overall economy. Democratic challenger Pete Gosar admits that on paper the economy looks good, but he says it lacks diversity and says if you aren’t working in the energy sector…things might not be so great. Bob Beck spoke with both candidates about the economy and has this report.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says that in his four years in office the state went from cutting budgets to enjoying a healthy revenue bump. Much of that is due to the recovery of the energy sector.
“Unemployment has gone down, we have the second fastest growing GDP in the country this year, so the economy is doing very well. We have been fortunate that in particular the oil sector has been robust. “
But Mead says technology based jobs and manufacturing also improved. But the governor admits that the economy is far from diversified. Democrat Pete Gosar is the son of someone who worked in the energy industry and has watched the state struggle when energy revenue declines. He says that must change.
“So that at one point if something is lagging, then something is leading. And right now we are not very diversified in our energy portfolio or in our economic portfolio and we need to change that.”
Mead’s target for diversity is his proposed enhanced technology network that he believes will lead to major advancements in internet speed and capability in Wyoming. He also says it should create new jobs.
“As you see Microsoft investing a little over a half a billion dollars in the state, as you see Green House Data, as you see Ptolemy, as you see these companies over the last four years they have really been booming.”
Mead predicts the state will see more of that across the state. But one thing that could hamper Wyoming…is its lack of accessible health care. The governor says telemedicine, where doctors can see patients from a remote location using technology, and focusing on prevention will help. But he says it probably isn’t enough.
“All of us want to make sure that our spouse, our kids, and our friends are gonna be in a position where they can get health care. And in Wyoming where our health care costs year in and year out are the most expensive in the country, it remains a challenge in Wyoming.”
Gosar says the state needs to look at attracting medical providers, but Mead says he and others have worked on the issue for a long time, but finding medical providers who want to work in rural settings is very difficult. Gosar says if Wyoming wants to address health care and the economy, he has one solution. “That’s expand Medicaid.” Gosar says it would equal 860 million dollars of economic investment, create health care jobs, and address some other things as well.
“Eliminate some of the uncompensated care at our hospitals and facilities that limit their services, which further limit their employment opportunities and so you know if you add up all the economic development that’s been done by the governor in the last four years, I’d be really surprised if it matched up to saying yes to Medicaid expansion.”
Mead went on record opposing expanding Medicaid a year ago, but the legislature directed him to work with federal officials to try and reach agreement where the state could expand Medicaid, but also have those in the program contribute to it.
When it comes to energy, Gosar says that the state is not focusing enough on renewables. Gosar favors funding research to try and resolve the tricky issue of finding a way to store energy. He says that will make the renewable industry more viable.
“The person and the state or the organization that understands storage and develops storage, they have a really bright future.”
Experts agree that will make renewable energy take off. Mead says his office has discussed the issue, but he says their focus is on ways to develop an area of the state where Wyoming minerals can be used to manufacture products within the state. The governor is also a strong supporter of ongoing research to make coal cleaner.
“As the leading exporter of energy period, we are blessed with that, but we have a corresponding responsibility to find solutions where solutions are needed.”
Gosar doesn’t oppose clean coal research as long as renewables are also studied.
The two will debate the issues Thursday night in Riverton. It will be broadcast by Wyoming Public Radio and Wyoming PBS.