Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wyoming doesn't have "forever" when it comes to rebuilding its infrastructure

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is big on infrastructure. He hammers away on the issue every chance he gets. On Thursday evening, he addressed the Wyoming Association of Municipalities Conference in Sheridan

He wants his home state to invest in its local communities. He wants the Legislature to treat the issue seriously. He wants all of us to speak out with one voice and say “Invest in Wyoming now!”

Meanwhile, over at State Capitol’s House and Senate chambers, crickets chirp.

There’s nobody there now to listen. But the place was crowded last winter when Gov. Mead delivered his “State of the State” address. As he spoke of his plan for “Wyoming First!” investment, it was so quiet you could hear crickets chirp if they weren’t hibernating or doing whatever crickets do in February. The Gov was speaking to his people – 76 of 90 legislators are Republicans. They weren’t in the mood for any new initiatives, especially one that messed with the state’s severance tax structure.

The Gov’s proposal was fairly simple. Set aside one-half of 1 percent of the severance tax. Divide it into thirds. Use one-third for local communities, one-third for highways and one-third for savings. He wanted this in place for the foreseeable future – or for at least seven years in order to generate enough revenue.

“We need predictability of funds,” the Governor said. “I wanted it at least for seven years.”

“I go the National Governors’ Association convention and Wyoming is in a much better place than almost every other state. We’re in competition with other states and they can’t do this now. Now is the time for Wyoming to do this. Our municipalities need this. Maintenance and building of infrastructure does not get cheaper with time.”

He noted that the Legislature did approve $45 million more for local communities. Not insignificant but still far short of the needs.

“If you want healthy economic development, you must have infrastructure. I will work with WAM to make sure that our towns and counties are strong.”

He asked WAM attendees for support and ideas. He asked us to speak up with one voice when talking to lawmakers.

Remember this. Infrastructure is crucial. You cannot have a prosperous state without it. And keep this in mind: Wyoming’s carbon-based economy will not last forever. Maybe that’s a short forever – five to ten more years. That means that carbon-based severance tax income won’t always be plentiful.

As the Gov said: “Invest now!”

Gov. Mead did not mention the arts specifically. But you can’t spell “infrastructure” with A-R-T-S. Just try to.

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