CHEYENNE – Calling agriculture “a particularly close topic,” Governor-Elect Mark Gordon talked continuing efforts to expand market access for producers while protecting the state’s legacy industries during his first press conference on Wednesday via telephone with reporters from across the state from his transition office.
Continuing the outreach into Asian-Pacific markets begun in October with the opening of a Wyoming Trade Office in Taiwan, Gordon told reporters it’s important to maintain the momentum of expanding markets for the state’s agriculture producers. He believes Wyoming’s agriculture industry has expertise providing commodities for the Japanese markets and could expand to other countries overseas.
“The beach-head is that trade office in Taiwan,” Gordon said. “I also think, particularly with the beef and lamb industries (in Wyoming), there are opportunities looking toward Europe and the value-added markets we can bring there.”
One key to that economic expansion – and other possibilities for ongoing economic diversification around the state – rests with the state community college system, he said. As a member of the Sheridan College Agriculture Extension Advisory Board, Gordon said a separate trust fund endowment model to benefit career and technical education across the state could be a first step toward achieving that goal.
Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, for example, “has a phenomenal welding program,” Gordon said. “I’d love to see that expanded.
“I’d like to set up an endowment for career and technical education,” he said. “That way, I think we can start getting matching funds and other things that are critical to growing our workforce.
Vital to keeping the state’s agriculture industry strong is addressing key concerns over water issues, Gordon said. Ongoing water strategies put into place by current Gov. Matt Mead have made a good start on keeping access to the state’s water resources open to all, he said.
“One of my biggest worries for the state going forward is to address our water concerns promptly and wisely,” Gordon said. “I want to make our programs accessible for smaller operators, smaller irrigators. Make the water development programs more accessible…for lots of users.”
Responding to questions from reporters, Gordon called fiscal stability one of his top issues for his first term as governor. It’s not a short-term issue, not happening in one year or even a legislative biennium, he said.
“How do we set a course to a fiscally-stable future?” Gordon said. “A hallmark of my time as governor – to be better able to set priorities, set our expenditures (in line with) revenue.”
The state’s minerals industries – those legacy industries Wyoming’s economy has been based on for decades – remain an important foundation for the economic future, he said. Gordon’s thoughts on economic diversification do not include taking mineral industries out of the picture, but moving toward bringing additional business and industry to the state.
Also apparently off the table, at least at present, is increasing taxes, maintaining a business-friendly environment in Wyoming, he said. But he didn’t rule out restructuring the way taxes are levied and used in the state.
“I don’t think this is the time to be raising taxes, but I am willing to talk about our tax structure,” Gordon said. “I want to make sure Wyoming is a low-tax and business-friendly state going forward. “If the Legislature does come up with something (to address the tax structure), I will look at it,” he said. “But I think there’s a lot we can do before we start talking about raising taxes.”
Gordon also addressed issues of funding for education and health care, while doubling-down on his stated position against Medicaid expansion in the state, an issue approved by three more western states – Nebraska, Idaho and Utah – by ballot initiatives in Tuesday’s general election.
“I don’t think (Medicaid expansion) is necessarily the right solution for Wyoming at this time,” Gordon said. “The question to me is what happens if it starts gobbling up our budget? We have opportunities I’d like to persue that are more state oriented, less federal government. Working with the Legislature, I think we can find a workable solution for Wyoming that brings costs down, makes the costs more transparent, make it more cost-friendly for insurance.”
Transparency in the work of Wyoming’s government was a watch-word throughout the campaign this midterm season, not only in the governor’s race. Gordon called it his “number one priority.
“…Transparency – making sure the people of Wyoming understand the budgeting process, where our revenue streams come from and the choices we make today for the future,” he said. “I don’t want to contrast against Governor Mead, but I do want to be sure we have a more open policy, be more transparent in how it works so the people of Wyoming can understand what we’re up to.
“I think Wyoming has a bright future,” Gordon said. “But there are a lot of things we can do better.”